House Votes To Extend Cannabis State Protections

by Taylor Engle

As the general public continues to gain acceptance and awareness regarding the benefits of using cannabis, legislative reform surrounding the plant has become a national issue. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 254-163 in favor of the amendment that would protect legal marijuana states from federal interference.

The measure would restrict the United States government from being able to enforce federal anti-cannabis laws in any legal state. As it stands, the federal government is already prohibited from interfering with legal medical states — this vote extends these protections while simultaneously upping the ante.

This amendment removes “medical” as the operative word and applies to recreational and medical jurisdictions alike. It would mainly function as protection for cannabis businesses who’ve found their doors kicked in by the Department of Justice time and again, despite the respective state’s stance on legality. 

Specifically, the amendment will prohibit federal funds from being used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” 

Cannabis legalization has a complicated history in the United States, especially as it pertains to functions of the government. But as COVID-19 swept the world and forced most businesses to shutter, the cannabis industry was deemed essential. This development may have had some sway in this year’s vote. And with two-thirds of Americans now vocalizing their support of cannabis legalization, it is a logical next step for the U.S.

The Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton Amendment was originally supposed to have been implemented last year. Passing by 267-165, it was the most significant vote to date on cannabis reform policy, but ultimately was removed by the Senate. 

Congressional effort to reform federal cannabis policy dates back to 2014 with the Rohrabacher-Farr and Leahy amendments, both of which work to protect cannabis businesses and consumers in states where it is medically legal. 

Every year since, representatives have worked to make strides in cannabis legalization. A similar amendment to Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton made it to a vote in 2015, but ultimately failed within the House. But with an increase both in cannabis legality within the states and overall acceptance, opinions at the Capitol have swayed.

While the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment failed to pass through the U.S. Senate last year, cannabis reform progress was still made when an amendment passed that protects cannabis businesses within Native American tribes and territory. Spearheaded by Blumenauer and Representative Deb Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus and one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, the amendment was the first tribal cannabis amendment to ever make it to the House floor, let alone pass.

Cannabis policy reform remains so significant because as it stands, the government is both willing and able to prosecute any cannabis user or business on a federal level, even if they reside in a state where cannabis use and purchase is legal. With cannabis still being considered a Schedule I narcotic on the federal level, it’s important to have language that protects legal adult-use states.

Although the amendment has passed, it still runs the risk of repeating 2019 by being shut down by the Senate. However, in a world where the cannabis industry is deemed “essential business,” this might be the year that makes federal cannabis policy reform impossible to push aside. 

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