September 7, 2017

The Future of Medical Cannabis Reform – Now What?

by Michelle Rutter, NCIA Government Relations Manager

Late in the evening of September 6th, the House Rules Committee held a hearing to discuss amendments to the upcoming appropriations bill that will fund the federal government for the upcoming fiscal year. The Rules Committee is used by House leadership to maintain control over the House floor, and is heavily stacked in favor of the majority party (by a 2:1 ratio).

Unfortunately, the committee decided not to allow the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment (formerly the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment) to move forward for a vote on the Floor. Despite the fact that 46 states have legalized some form of cannabis, 90% of the public supports medical marijuana, and over 70% think the federal government should not interfere with state marijuana reforms, the Rules Committee singlehandedly decided to strip out the language protecting states’ medical marijuana laws that have been in law since 2014.

Although this came as no surprise, it is still disappointing. So, what’s next going forward? There are a couple of possible scenarios.

Scenario 1: In July, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment offered by Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) by a voice vote. The Leahy amendment is identical to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment and would protect medical cannabis businesses and patients for another year. If this legislation passes the Senate, the opportunity still exists for Congress to reconcile the differences and agree to maintain the current protections in medical cannabis states.

Scenario 2: There are rumors circulating that Congress will pass a funding bill for Hurricane Harvey relief and that this bill would include a debt ceiling increase and continue funding the federal government through mid-December. If this happens, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment will continue to protect medical cannabis patients and businesses until a new appropriations bill is passed.

Scenario 3: Neither the House or the Senate agree to maintaining this provision, and Congressional protections for states’ medical cannabis laws disappear in the short term. Although this is the worst scenario of the three listed here, the opportunity still exists for Congress to re-insert this provision during next year’s budget negotiations.

NCIA will continue to advocate and communicate with Members of Congress on the behalf of the cannabis industry. While the House Rules Committee has made a disappointing decision, there is still hope that the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer/Leahy amendments will be included in federal law for yet another year. As we continue to represent our member-businesses, we will be vigilant in our efforts to bring about the best possible positive outcome in the current political climate.

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