By Michelle Rutter, NCIA Government Relations Manager
As 2018 comes to an end, so does the 115th Congress. But, before the 116th Congress is sworn-in in January, an appropriations agreement must be reached before December 7, when the continuing resolution (CR) that is in place expires. That means if Congress doesn’t pass appropriations legislation by December 7, a partial government shutdown will occur.
Passing the bill in less than ten days will be an uphill battle. The President wants $5 billion appropriated towards a border wall and has threatened to veto the bill should it not include it. The Republican-controlled Senate has also asked for $1.6 billion worth of “pedestrian fencing” at the southern border. Should a shutdown occur, it will be the last chance for the President to win wall funding before Democrats take over the House majority in January.
There are a couple of different scenarios that could occur, but both bode well for cannabis advocates. First, Congress could pass another continuing resolution, which would include the current protections in place for medical cannabis patients, programs, and businesses. Alternatively, Congress could choose to pass an appropriations package that includes the Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Justice (CJS) bill, which also includes those same medical cannabis protections. Essentially, either way, medical cannabis protections remain in law.
This simple, one sentence appropriations amendment is the only thing standing in the way of the Department of Justice from prosecuting medical cannabis businesses and patients, and the process of getting it included into the federal appropriations bill every year can be incredibly difficult.
Moving into 2019, NCIA will continue to focus on ensuring that these protections remain in place, but also work to expand them to include adult-use cannabis businesses. In addition, NCIA will be using the appropriations process to advance other areas of cannabis policy, like curtailing the Treasury Department from prosecuting banks that choose to service the legal cannabis industry, and prohibiting the Department of Veterans Affairs from punishing veterans that choose to use cannabis in states where it’s legal.
All of these amendments will have good chances of passage in the Democratic-controlled House, but will face challenges in the Republican-controlled Senate.