Fearing crackdown, marijuana advocates turn to Congress

Fearing crackdown, marijuana advocates turn to Congress
© Getty

Advocates in favor of legalizing marijuana are pressing Congress to include two measures in government funding legislation that would protect recreational and medical marijuana companies.

The first provision would prohibit the Justice Department from cracking down on medical marijuana companies that follow state laws. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerLobbying world Congress to take up marijuana reform this spring Your must-read holiday book list from members of Congress MORE (D-Ore.) are teaming up to push the renewal of those protections, which will otherwise expire at the end of April. 

A second measure, backed by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), would for the first time prohibit the Justice Department from cracking down on recreational marijuana companies that follow state laws. 


The federal government prohibits the use of marijuana, but the Obama administration declined to enforce the ban in the 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana, as well as the eight states that also allow recreational marijuana.

Marijuana advocates fear the Trump administration could take a more aggressive approach to enforcing the federal ban on marijuana.

While Congress has been unwilling to lift the federal ban on marijuana, there is a growing bipartisan push for lawmakers to respect the right of states to set their own pot policies.

Supporters of legal marijuana say the congressional playing field is shifting in their favor. 

“Marijuana got more votes than Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE in the states where it was on the ballot,” Blumenauer told The Hill. 

The House fell a few votes shy of passing McClintock’s recreational marijuana provision in 2015, but Polis expects more lawmakers to support the amendment this time around. They need to flip at least nine votes for it to pass.

“This wasn’t on the radar last time, but it is now,” Polis told The Hill. 

“More states are moving in this direction,” he added, “and it’s a much more pressing issue for those of us who come from states that have legalized marijuana.”

Since the last vote failed two years ago, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada have legalized recreational marijuana, putting more pressure on lawmakers from these four states to support the measure.

The marijuana advocates will likely target the five Democrats and 14 Republicans from these states who previously voted against the McClintock measure.

The fate of the medical marijuana amendment is tied to a continuing resolution.

When Congress returns to Washington next week, they will have only a few days to pass a continuing resolution — which includes the medical marijuana amendment — that would temporarily fund the government until lawmakers negotiate a long-term spending bill.

Republicans have to pass some sort of a funding bill by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown.

“There’s very little enthusiasm to have another government shutdown or face off,” Blumenauer said.

Meanwhile, marijuana advocates hope to include the recreational marijuana amendment in the long-term funding bill. It won’t be part of the continuing resolution, because it wasn’t included of the previous year’s funding package. 

McClintock and Polis want to attach their recreational marijuana amendment to the Justice Department’s funding bill later this year — and they believe it has the votes to pass — but if GOP leadership elects to lump all of the government spending bills together in what’s known as an “omnibus,” that could spell trouble for pot advocates.  

So they’re hoping the Justice Department’s spending bill get its own vote.

“If the bill comes to the House floor, the McClintock-Polis amendment will pass,” said Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance. 

“There is much more momentum around this issue now, and it stands a better chance of passing, but it’s not a slam dunk.” 

The makeup of the House has changed slightly since the last time lawmakers voted on this issue, with Republicans losing a handful of seats to Democrats.

The fresh faces on Capitol Hill are more likely to support marijuana legalization, Collins said, compared to the “older members of Congress who come from the generation of the drug wars in the 1980s and 1990s.”