Federal marijuana protections safe for now with stopgap spending bill approval

The House on Thursday passed a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend and buy time for challenging talks on a wide range of unfinished business on Capitol Hill.

The measure passed mostly along party lines, 235-193, and would keep the government running through Dec. 22. The Senate was expected to swiftly approve the measure as early as Thursday night and send it to President Donald Trump.

Protections for state medical marijuana programs known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment were also continued in the legislation to fund the government, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., announced in a statement.

“While we are pleased that these critical protections will continue, two weeks is not enough certainty for the millions of Americans who rely on medical marijuana for treatment and the businesses who serve them,” Blumenauer said. “As Congress works out a long-term funding bill, it must also include these protections. And ultimately, Congress must act to put an end to the cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs — and adult use — from federal interference.”

The extension of Rohrabacher-Blumenauer comes a week after a letter was made public in which 66 members of Congress urged Senate and House leaders to extend the medical marijuana protections that have been in place since December 2014. Those protections, previously known as Rohrabacher-Farr, prohibit the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal funds to prevent certain states “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The likelihood of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment’s inclusion in a new omnibus bill is “pretty good,” said John Hudak, a drug policy specialist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., in an interview with The Cannabist earlier this week.

“We’ve been down this road before,” he said.

Although House members stymied efforts to include marijuana-related provisions — including Rohrabacher-Blumenauer — from the federal appropriations bill under consideration, there still exists avenues in the Senate for the insertion of Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, he added.

Additionally, stripping Rohrabacher-Blumenauer could have negative implications for Republicans’ efforts in trying to round up the necessary votes on the new tax bill, he said.

“It puts Congress in a position right now that if they start meddling significantly with upcoming spending legislation, it could put at risk this very fragile coalition that’s been put together on the tax bill,” Hudak said. “They probably have a lot more to lose by stripping it than they do to gain.”

The short-term continuing resolution should give Congress a few extra weeks to negotiate a broader omnibus appropriations bill that could then last for nine or 10 months, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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