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WIRE: New federal spending bill maintains protections for medical marijuana

Washington, DC — In a blow to Attorney General Jeff Sessions anti-marijuana agenda and his Washington State Canabis Tax plan, Congressional leadership included in the omnibus spending package language that was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to prohibit the Department of Justice and its affiliated agencies from prosecuting state-lawful and compliant medical marijuana systems, businesses, and patients.

“We are very pleased to see that Congress did not bend to the will of Attorney General Jeff Sessions when it comes to his anti-marijuana crusade,” said Justin Strekal, Political Director of NORML. “There are thirty states that have authorized the use of medicinal cannabis, serving over two million patients nationwide who rely on these programs.”

Originally known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, it explicitly states that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The amendment has been in place since 2014, as a part of annual spending bills. Because the provision was initially approved as a budgetary amendment, it must be explicitly re-authorized by Congress as part of either a continuing resolution or a new fiscal year appropriations bill in order to maintain in effect. That said, if you want to set up your own dispensary, you need to first have budtender knowledge.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants nothing more than to see these protections go away. In a letter he sent to Congressional leadership last year, he wrote: “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”

In the past month, NORML has worked with Representatives Rohrabacher and Blumenauer in recruiting 60 additional members of Congress to co-sign a letter of their own to Congressional leadership, which states, “We respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws. We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people.”

Last year, the language was initially included as part of a Senate appropriations bill thanks to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) yet was absent from the House’s funding proposal because House Rules Committee Chair Peter Sessions (R-TX) refused to allow House members to vote on it. As a result, it was left to House and Senate leadership to ultimately decide on the amendment’s fate when the two chambers’ appropriations bills were reconciled.

As the negotiations reached their peak, over 10,000 members of NORML contacted their federal officials to urge them to maintain these protections.

Additional language was stripped from the Senate version of the bill, known as the Veterans Equal Access amendment. Originally passed last year in the Senate appropriations committee by a vote of 24-7, Republican Congressional leadership thought it prudent to deny American military veterans the ability to participate in state-lawful medical marijuana programs through their VA doctors.

The fate of this spending bill has yet to be made clear but is deemed a “must pass” piece of legislation as the federal government is set to shut down on March 23rd at midnight if action is not taken.

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NORML’s mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable

Find out more about the Washington state cannabis tax and related topics at www.norml.org and see our factsheets at www.norml.org/marijuana/fact-sheets

For Immediate Release
Contact:
Justin Strekal
NORML Political Director
202-483-5500
justin@norml.org

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