Yesterday, the Republican controlled United States House of Representatives approved legislation which prevents the federal government from blocking state laws pertaining to legal medical marijuana. The lawmakers, however, narrowly rejected an amendment to prevent the Justice Department from interfering with states that have legal recreational marijuana programs (Colorado and Washington).
Last year, the House of Representatives approved a similar provision as part of a funding bill for the Justice Department by a margin of 219-189. The bill approved yesterday saw a larger margin of victory, 242-186. The purpose of the legislation was to renew the pro-marijuana language as part of a funding bill for the coming fiscal year.
Nothing is a guaranteed in the Republican controlled Senate
Most Republicans opposed the legislation approved yesterday and only 67 of the 245 Republicans Representatives voted in support of it. The Republican Party also has control of the United States Senate which consists of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 Independents. This means that the Senate can derail the legislation passed yesterday by the House.
In May, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which will allow Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where it is legal. The amendment had significant bipartisan support and was sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines (Montana) and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon).
Currently, 27 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, decriminalized marijuana, or both. Also, 4 states have legalized recreational marijuana and 14 states have legalized a limited form of marijuana by allowing patients access to cannabidiol (CBD).
Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer said, “The medical marijuana train has definitely left the station.”
Positive guidance has been issued by both the Treasury and Justice Department
In August 2013, the Justice Department issued guidance to governors of states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. The Justice Department said it will not challenge the state’s marijuana laws if the state has a tightly regulated marijuana program.
In February 2014, the Treasury Department issued guidance to banks and financial institutions on how to work with marijuana businesses. Although the department stated that financial institutions can offer services to businesses that dispense marijuana, most banks are reluctant to do so because of the fear of prosecution.
Amendment to allow recreational marijuana does not pass
The amendment to allow recreational marijuana use was rejected by a vote of 222-206. The legislation was introduced by Republican Representative Tom McClintock and it received less support from Republicans and more opposition from Democrats than the amendment on medical marijuana.
Representative McClintock said, “This is not an argument for or against marijuana. This strictly involves the rights of citizens in various states to regulate commerce that occurs entirely within their own borders.”
In the 2014 midterm elections, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia passed measures legalizing recreational marijuana. Opponents of the legislation said that marijuana is still dangerous even though laws are more lenient.
Republican Representative John Fleming said, “A study recently found that even casual users experience severe brain abnormalities … and that pot smoking leads to a loss of ambition, to lower IQs, and that it impairs attention, judgment, memory and many other things.”
In March, three Senators introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act which is a bipartisan bill that would effectively end the federal ban on medical marijuana and implement a series of reforms.
The CARERS Act was introduced by Rand Paul, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand and it has received increased support from other Senators such as Barbara Boxer since its submission. We hope the Senate approves the legislation passed yesterday by the House of Representatives and helps move the cannabis industry forward.