The feds should not spend taxpayer dollars in states that have legalized weed
Later this month, members of the House will debate a relatively inconspicuous appropriations amendment that seeks to remove a single word from the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Should a majority of members approve the amendment and enact it into law, it will be the most significant step that Congress has ever taken to end the failed and cruel policy of federal marijuana criminalization.
Known as the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment, this bipartisan language would restrict the Department of Justice from using taxpayer dollars to interfere in the 11 states that have legalized the adult use of marijuana.
Since 2014, members of Congress have passed annual spending bills that have included a provision protecting those who engage in the state-sanctioned use and dispensing of medical cannabis from federal prosecution by the Department of Justice. This amendment maintains 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 Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment expands these protections to include activities related to the adult-use of marijuana. It removes the word “medical” from the existing language — thereby extending these protections to both qualified patients and to adults, as well as to those licensed in both the medical and recreational industries.
Why is this expanded scope necessary? Because today, nearly one in four Americans resides in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal under state statute. In many of these states, these activities were recently deemed “essential” to the health and welfare of the community during the ongoing COVID crisis.
This November, several additional states — including New Jersey — are expected to move forward with similar legalization measures.
It is time for the federal government to accept the reality that the majority of Americans have moved away from cannabis criminalization, and to formally take a “hands-off” approach by passing and enacting the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment.
It’s worth noting that the appropriations process is increasingly becoming a hot-bed for the normalization of cannabis reform efforts in Congress and that the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment is the natural progression to build off other advances.
Already included in the fiscal year 2021 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) appropriations bill are three important components pertaining to cannabis. Among them is the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing report language, offered by Representative Charlie Crist (D-FL), which seeks to prevent federal government employees from being denied employment solely for participating in state-legal cannabis programs. The enactment of this protection would be of significant benefit to veterans — someone in four of who consume cannabis specifically “to alleviate a medical or physical condition” according to the American Legion— and who make up over 30 percent of the federal workforce.
The FSGG bill additionally includes provisions to provide better banking access to state-licensed marijuana businesses and to remove the current rider that prevents the District of Columbia from enacting a regulated adult-use cannabis market.
Additionally included in the 2021 Labor, Health, and Human Services appropriations bill, a new amendment has been added by Representatives Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) to prohibit the Department of Education from using federal funds to penalize institutions of higher education for either participating in or preparing to engage in clinical cannabis research projects.
Enactment of all of these amendments would be another meaningful step in providing certainty for the jurisdictions that have reformed their laws in defiance of federal prohibition.
Ultimately, it is up to Congress to de-schedule cannabis altogether from the Controlled Substance Act to protect those tens of millions of marijuana consumers from undue federal interference.
But in the meantime, passage and final inclusion of the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment specifically — will provide immediate and necessary protections to Americans while moving Congress forward toward a more rational marijuana policy.
Justin Strekal is the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), an advocacy group that aims to end the federal criminalization and prohibition of marijuana.