Protections for California Medical Marijuana Participants in Jeopardy

It was only last month that a well-known amendment by a Southern California congressman was cited by a U.S. District Court in its decision to halt federal prosecution of otherwise legit marijuana growers in the Golden State.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, named for U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, essentially strips funding from federal attempts to enforce national drug laws in medical cannabis states like California. But now that amendment, renewed annually as part of the budget process since 2014, could be in jeopardy.

This week, the House Rules Committee blocked consideration of the latest version of the legislation. The matter is far from resolved, however. The Senate still has a version of the protections percolating.

"The issues aren’t dead yet, as the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee added both the state medical cannabis protections and the veterans rider to its versions of spending bills this year," the group Marijuana Majority explained in a statement. "The matters will likely be resolved by a House-Senate conference committee that later merges the two chambers’ bills together."

Rohrabacher, a Republican, has long argued that marijuana should be accessible to the men and women who have fought for our country and have a medical need for the drug. "Our fight to protect medical marijuana patients is far from over," he said in a statement Thursday.

"The marijuana reform movement is large and growing," he said. "This bad decision by the House Rules Committee is an affront to the 46 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized use and distribution of some form of medical marijuana."

"Opposing seriously ill patients' access to medical cannabis is sick enough, but blocking the people’s representatives from even being able to vote on the matter is just obscene," Tom Angell, chair of Marijuana Majority, said in a statement.

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, said in her own statement, "We are deeply disappointed that the House Rules Committee did not include the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment."

Angell described the Rules Committee's move as a dirty trick and noted that some polls have shown that as many as 9 out of 10 Americans approve of marijuana as medicine. The committee has a history of blocking marijuana protections and reform, including a throttling earlier this summer of legislation that would have allowed military veterans to get pot recommendations from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.

The House Rules Committee also nixed other cannabis amendments this week. Those included, according to Marijuana Majority, "ones dealing with scientific research, protecting state full legalization laws, hemp and Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend its own money on regulating marijuana sales."

Leaders of the potent Drug Policy Alliance aren't too alarmed. They say similar politics played out over Rohrabacher-Blumenauer last year but that the amendment ultimately prevailed.

"The outcome in the House Rules Committee was unfortunate but expected," Bill Piper, senior director of DPA's office of national affairs in Washington, D.C., said via email. "The Senate is moving forward with an amendment to protect state medical marijuana programs. Our goal is to make sure the Senate amendment is in the final version."

Leaders of the Southern California Coalition, the largest organization of marijuana businesses in L.A., say they've been in touch with Rohrabacher's office and that they expect his amendment to live on one way or another.

"Southern California Coalition actively engaged the Rules Committee on this issue and was in contact with Representative Rohrabacher's staff this morning to determine what we could do to help move things forward," SCC member Sarah Armstrong said via email. "Trump's proposal to extend the current budget would allow the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment to remain in place until the end of the year. In the meantime, we intend to work with our coalition partners to ensure that our members do not become victims of federal harassment."

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