U.S. House of Representatives Approves Measure to Protect Cannabis Businesses from Federal Interference

July 31st, 2020, Adult-use, Federal, Medical, Public Policy

In July, for the second year in a row, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a spending bill amendment to protect all state and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference. Bills that prevent the federal government from using federal funds to investigate and/or prosecute marijuana businesses offers a key level of protection for this industry, despite the fact that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law.

This year’s proposal—sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA)—would prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal funds to impede the implementation of marijuana legalization measures by state and tribal governments. The House voted 217-197 to pass this version of the bill.

The appropriations bill would expand on an existing, more limited provision to shield medical marijuana programs from federal intervention. That existing protection, often referred to as the Blumenauer Amendment or Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, has been enacted through appropriations legislation every year since 2014.

Here’s the text of the revised measure, which proponents want to attach to FY2021 spending legislation: 

None of the funds made available by this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the United States Virgin Islands, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.

None of the funds made available by this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to prevent any Indian tribe (as such term is defined in section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5304)) from enacting or implementing tribal laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.

Last year was the first time the House of Representatives passed the more sweeping protections to cover recreational/adult use marijuana laws, and members approved it along largely bipartisan lines in a 267-165 vote. At the time, the tribal cannabis program language passed as a separate amendment, whereas this year the protections have been combined into a single proposal. In 2019, the Senate voted down the measure so the provisions did not make it into final Fiscal Year 2020 spending legislation signed by President Trump.

We have not seen significant federal enforcement efforts against cannabis businesses that operate in full compliance with state law, even in the adult use market where the current appropriations bill offers no protection. However, both medical and adult use marijuana businesses that violate state marijuana laws continue to operate at the risk of facing significant criminal charges and jail time. Federal investigations of marijuana businesses continue to pop up in local and national news outlets, including in recent months in states that have legalized medical and adult use marijuana, such as California, Massachusetts, and Maine.