Pro-pot provisions survive spending deal negotiations

Pro-pot provisions survive spending deal negotiations
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Capitol Hill’s marijuana advocates are cheering provisions of this week’s 2017 spending deal that protect certain states that have legalized the drug.

The agreement, finalized by top appropriators Sunday night, includes language that bars the Justice Department from blocking state implementation of medical marijuana laws.

Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerHouse votes to block aircraft sales to Iran Expand the health savings account 'safe harbor' to reduce health costs Time to pass the U.S. OUTDOOR Act to support American jobs and consumers MORE (D-Ore.), who heads the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, praised the move as a commonsense benefit both for patients seeking the drug and the budding industry that supplies it.

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“Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty,” Blumenauer said in a brief statement.

President Trump had expressed his support on the campaign trail for medical marijuana and the right of states to manage the drug as they see fit. But since taking the White House, his administration has stirred fears among marijuana advocates that officials would crack down on the leniency laws.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRhode Island announces plan to pay DACA renewal fee for every 'Dreamer' in state Mich. Senate candidate opts for House run instead NAACP sues Trump for ending DACA MORE has a long history of opposing marijuana, and in February told a conference of state attorneys general that he’s “dubious” of the drug’s benefits.

“Maybe science will prove I'm wrong, but at this point in time, you and I have a responsibility to use our best judgment,” he said.

More recently, Sessions said the drug is “more dangerous … than a lot of people realize,” suggesting the DOJ would act to rein in legalization laws.

"Marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws,” Sessions told Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host. “So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide.”

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws on the books, and 21 have decriminalized the drug.

First introduced in 2003, the marijuana provision in the omnibus spending deal was enacted in 2014. It blocks the DOJ from using any funds to prevent state laws “that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The omnibus bill, which Congress is expected to pass this week to prevent a government shutdown, would extend that language through September. The bill also extends another 2014 law that promotes research for industrial hemp.

Blumenauer, for one, is lamenting the temporary nature of those provisions, urging Congress to make them permanent.

“[T]his annual challenge must end,” he said. “We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use.”