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Trump–Dem Budget Deal Extends MMJ Protections to Dec. 8

Published on September 11, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Medical marijuana patients, growers, and dispensaries have three more months of protection from Jeff Sessions and any federal crackdown, thanks to a deal cut late last week between President Trump and leaders in Congress.

The hurricane relief, federal spending, and debt ceiling agreement between President Trump and congressional Democratic leaders included a Rohrabacher–Blumenauer clause, which will effectively shield state medical marijuana programs from federal intrusion until Dec. 8, 2017.

The language in the deal means the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent states—as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico—from “implementing a law that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The Trump–Dem deal, which caught Republican leaders by surprise, effectively ended (at least temporarily) the move by House Republicans to scuttle the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment. That measure, which has been in place in various forms since 2014, uses a budget amendment to prevent the various Justice Department agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from arresting and prosecuting people abiding by state medical cannabis laws.

How Did That Happen?

Early Wednesday, the House approved a standalone measure to provide nearly $8 billion in relief to Hurricane Harvey victims. The House sent the measure to the Senate on a 419–3 vote. Senate Democratic leaders picked up the Harvey bill and bundled it with a federal spending package and debt ceiling extension. Republican leaders hated the co-mingling of the bills, with House Speaker Paul Ryan calling the idea “ridiculous.”

But President Trump wanted to move past the budget and debt debate and get on with trying to pass a tax reform package—and he may have seen the Democrats’ offer as a way to do it.

In effect, Republican and Democratic congressional leaders presented President Trump with dueling offers late Wednesday. Trump went with the Democratic package, which funded Hurricane Harvey relief to Texas and extended federal spending and the debt ceiling through Dec. 8. With the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within days of running out of money, Congress was under intense pressure to pass hurricane relief. Congressional leaders relented, passing the Harvey-budget-debt deal in the House and Senate with heavy Democratic support and light Republican opposition.

The upshot: Hurricane Harvey victims receive relief, and the federal budget and debt ceiling debates get kicked down the road to early December.

Where Did Medical Cannabis Fit In?

The key, for cannabis purposes, is that last week’s deal was based on the existing version of the federal spending package, which lawmakers effectively extended. It includes the medical marijuana protection language. Of course, the whole thing (except the hurricane aid) expires in three months. So we’ll see you back here in early December.

Going forward, the Senate will likely have to hammer out a compromise with the House, whose version of the federal spending measure specifically did not include that language, thanks to a maneuver by the House Rules Committee Chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX).

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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