A congressional committee blocked debate on an amendment barring the government from contradicting state marijuana laws, opening them up to federal interference.
The decision from the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee is reviving fears among marijuana advocates that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will seek to crack down on legalization laws at the state level. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long expressed his opposition to legal weed and recently attempted to dismantle local marijuana protections.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which originally passed in 2014, prevents the DOJ from using federal funds to prosecute individuals in states with medical legalization.
“Opposing seriously ill patients’ access to medical cannabis is sick enough, but blocking the people’s representatives from even being able to vote on the matter is just obscene,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Forty-six states now allow some form of medical marijuana and polls consistently show that more than 90 percent of voters support the issue, but a small handful of Congressional ‘leaders’ decided behind closed doors to kill this amendment without due consideration. Marijuana reform opponents know that the only way they can impede our progress is by using dirty legislative tricks. But they won’t be able to do this without people noticing.”
While protections for legal marijuana have always attracted bipartisan backing, the House Rules Committee has recently taken an adversarial stance towards the issue. Members voted against the Veterans Equal Access amendment in July, which would have opened up access to medical pot under the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Congress voted to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment in May, but it was only attached to a short-term spending bill. In a letter sent to Congress later that month, Sessions asked that they dismantle the amendment, arguing the state protections undermine the DOJ’s ability to combat the illegal drug trade.
Sessions cites the current drug epidemic involving opioids as reason to remove the restrictions placed on the DOJ. Recent research, however, suggests that legal marijuana is helping reduce abuse rates of prescription drugs.
The amendment is still a part of the Senate Appropriations Committee spending bills passed this year, and will likely be dealt with by a House-Senate conference committee. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Nearly 20 percent of Americans now have access to legal pot.
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