Rohrabacher–Blumenauer Renewal OK’d by Congressional Committee

House Speaker Paul Ryan (right) administers the House oath of office to Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) during a mock swearing in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (Zach Gibson/AP)

A powerful Congressional committee on Thursday voted to extend federal protections for state-legal medical marijuana. It’s the latest example of how Congress is progressing on cannabis, one small step at a time.

The US House Appropriations Committee passed by voice vote an amendment introduced by US Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) that would ban the Department of Justice from using its funds to intervene with state laws that allow the growth, distribution, and use of cannabis for medical use.

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The bill will now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

The spending provision has technically been in effect since 2014, first as the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment and later called the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment. But conservative Republicans—and particularly Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the House Rules Committee chairman and an avowed cannabis legalization opponent—have worked to keep the amendment from making it to a floor vote.

“For the first time ever our Rohrabacher-Blumenauer language passed by voice in Committee,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) tweeted after the vote, adding that further steps need to be taken to protect adult-use legalization. “MMJ protections are not enough. We need to expand to adult use. But today’s action in Committee is another sign that momentum is building.”

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Cannabis industry advocates say the committee’s actions are historic in scope.

“It’s a tide-turner for our industry,” said Saphira Galoob, CEO and principal of The Liaison Group, a Washington, DC, lobbying firm that works on federal cannabis policies.

“Given that federal standalone legislation is much harder and more time-consuming to pass, [and] given that appropriations bills pass every year, having this in the base bill opens up our opportunity and gives us traction … to get banking protections for example, veterans’ access (to medical cannabis), and downstream hopefully to include adult consumption,” she told Leafly.

Galoob also credited what she called the “new generation of credible conservative cannabis champions who understand the importance of protecting the laboratories of democracy: the robust state [medical cannabis] programs that are flourishing.”

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She commended Joyce, a former prosecutor, for his understanding of “how important it is that state and federal law be reconciled, to allow this industry to grow and thrive.”

That praise was echoed by Justin Strekal, political director of NORML.

“We thank Representative Joyce for his leadership to protect the 46 states that have reformed their marijuana policies and the over 2 million patients that they serve,” Strekal said in a statement.

Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, called the amendment just the latest sign that support is growing in Congress for marijuana policy reforms.

“Republicans are joining with Democrats to protect compassionate state medical marijuana programs from federal interference,” he said in a statement. “The strong bipartisan support we’re seeing in Congress mirrors public opinion, as polls show an overwhelming majority of both major parties support legal access to medical marijuana. At this point, opponents probably want to avoid being on the record voting against sick patients and states’ rights, which could explain why the committee held a voice vote.”