US House Votes to Protect Medical Marijuana

On June 3, 2015, the United States House of Representatives voted to reauthorize an amendment that would prevent federal authorities from interfering with medical marijuana businesses in states where the substance is legal.

In addition, the House passed several amendments shifting federal funds away from the DEA and into the hands of other agencies. The amendments were part of the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.

Last year, Congress approved a set of similar amendments to protect medical marijuana businesses, but these amendments were set to expire at the end of the fiscal year. With the potential for another year of protection for patients, medical marijuana could slowly become defacto U.S. policy.

There are six amendments in the 2016 appropriations bill that not only warrant interest from the marijuana industry but also represent victories for the movement as a whole.

The first, and perhaps the most important, was the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which would prevent the use of federal funds to arrest or prosecute individuals or businesses for medical marijuana as long as they are compliant with state law. With strong bipartisan support, the amendment passed 242-186.

The next amendment was introduced by Republican Rep. Thomas Massie and Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. This amendment would prevent the DEA from interfering with states that have allowed industrial hemp cultivation for research.

Although limited hemp cultivation was legalized in 2014, many hemp farmers still fear interference from the DEA, which makes no distinction between marijuana and hemp. The amendment passed 282-146.

The third amendment, introduced by Republican Rep. Scott Perry, would protect states that allow the use high-CBD/low-THC marijuana oil. There are no protections for other medical marijuana patients, but the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment should take care of that concern.

The next three amendments all have to do specifically with DEA funding. One amendment introduced by Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu would take $9 million away from the Cannabis Reduction and Eradication program and move it to the VAWA Consolidated Youth Oriented Program, the Victims of Child Abuse Act and general deficit reduction.

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen introduced an amendment that would take $4 million in funding away from the DEA and move it to a program aimed at reducing the nation’s backlog of processing rape kits. Finally, Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro introduced an amendment to shift $9 million away from the DEA to fund body cameras for police officers.

There was also an amendment aimed at protecting recreational marijuana businesses and users in a manner similar to medical marijuana, but that was narrowly defeated with a vote of 206-222. Although that was a disappointing defeat for marijuana advocates, it is hard to deny the other victories.

Because the House is not the end of the legislative process, work will still have to be done in the Senate. The Senate could have its own version of the bill, and there is no telling how the new Republican-led Senate will handle it.

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