Key Senate Committee Votes to Renew Protections for Medical Marijuana

The United States Capitol in Washington, DC (Wikimedia/David Maiolo)

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) approved an amendment in a voice vote that would continue to protect state medical marijuana programs from federal interference.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), would add a clause to the CJS budget for Fiscal Year 2018 that prevents the Department of Justice from using resources to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers that are in compliance with state law.

A similar amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

In 2014, Congress added a similar amendment to an omnibus spending bill that prevented the Dept. of Justice from spending any resources to target state-legal medical marijuana businesses.

This amendment was subsequently renewed, but now stands to expire.

If the CJS budget is approved in the Senate, the amendment will go to a special conference committee to reach a compromise with the House.

If no budget is approved by September 30, the previous amendment will be automatically renewed for another year.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly stated that he opposes marijuana being legal for any reason, and in May sent a letter to Congress urging them to vote down the amendment and allow him to resume prosecuting medical marijuana providers.

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have enacted effective medical marijuana laws.

According to an April poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 94 percent of U.S. voters support allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes. The same poll showed 73 percent of U.S. voters “oppose government enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.”

“More than half the states have taken a stand and said they want their seriously ill residents to have safe and reliable access to medical marijuana, and today the Senate Appropriations Committee listened,” said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement issued following the vote. “What was expected to be a very successful vote passed on an overwhelming voice vote, while opposition to the Leahy amendment was literally a whimper. That sound we heard in the Senate was the sound of a waving white flag as the federal war on medical marijuana patients and providers winds down.”

“We strongly urge the rest of Congress to do the right thing and include this amendment in the final budget. Even if you are one of the few people who don’t support medical marijuana, states should still have the right to help their most vulnerable residents. They should not have to worry about the Department of Justice interfering,” Murphy added.

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