Congressional Leaders Call For Prohibition Of Federal Interference Of State-Legal Cannabis

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A bipartisan group of 44 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday calling for a prohibition of federal interference with cannabis activities that are legal under state or tribal law. The letter, which was addressed to the ranking members of the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Subcommittee, was signed by dozens of representatives and led by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Earl Blumenauer and Barbara Lee, along with Tom McClintock and Eleanor Holmes Norton.

In the letter, the House members wrote that as 2022 appropriations bills are drafted, “we respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state or tribal marijuana laws. We also request that you maintain the current language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws.”

The drafters of the letter went on to note that nearly all of the states have passed some sort of cannabis policy reform, writing that “to date, 48 states have enacted laws that, to varying degrees, relax their prohibitions against the use of marijuana or its components, such as CBD oil. Of those, 36 states have medical marijuana programs, and 17 of those have adult-use programs.”

Respecting The Will Of The People With The Prohibition Of Federal Interference of Cannabis

The representatives added that in most states that have relaxed prohibitions, cannabis policy reforms had been approved by the voters. The letter called on the subcommittee to respect the will of the people by protecting state-legal cannabis from federal prosecution.

“Most of these laws were decided by ballot initiatives,” the letter continued. “We believe that the federal government should not interfere with these programs and the will of the citizens of these states.”

The members of Congress also noted the prohibition on federal enforcement of state-legal cannabis operators had been passed by the House with legislation known as the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton-Lee amendment in 2019 and 2020. However, the amendment was excluded from bills by the GOP-led Senate Appropriations Committee chaired at the time by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, one of the few states yet to enact any measure of cannabis policy reform.

The additional congressional leaders who signed the letter include Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jefferies; and leaders of top House committees such as Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler; Oversight and Reform chairwoman Carolyn Maloney; Small Business chairwoman Nydia Velazquez; Natural Resources chairman Raúl Grijalva; Progressive Caucus chairwoman Pramila Jayapal; as well as Dean of the House Don Young and dozens of more members of the House.

Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), called on Congress to enact the prohibition of federal interference.

“The importance of this bipartisan amendment cannot be overstated, as nearly half of all Americans reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal under state statute, with programs supporting over 321,000 full-time jobs,” Strekal said in a press release from the cannabis policy reform advocacy group. “It is time for Congress to acknowledge this reality and ensure these protections are in the final spending bill.” 

Similar Policy Protected Medical Marijuana Operators For Years

A similar federal policy enforcing the prohibition of federal interference with state-legal medical marijuana laws known as the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment was approved in the House of Representatives in May 2014 after six previous attempts to adopt the measure failed. The amendment went on to become law as part of an omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in December of that year. The legislation, later known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, has been periodically renewed and will continue to protect medical marijuana operators through the 2021 fiscal year.

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