Senate passes spending bill with medical marijuana protections, Trump agrees to sign it

Daybreak casts a warm glow behind the Washington skyline on a clear day in the Nation’s Capital, Tuesday, Feb 27, 2018. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Senate passes spending bill with medical marijuana protections, Trump agrees to sign it

The provision known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer prohibits the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana programs

The Senate passed an omnibus spending bill late Thursday that included federal medical marijuana protections in place since 2014. But the fate of the $1.3 trillion spending bill remains up in the air Friday after President Donald Trump tweeted a veto threat.

UPDATE: Trump in a press conference Friday afternoon said he would sign the fiscal year 2018 omnibus funding legislation.

Known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, the provision prohibits the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent certain states “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

After clearing the House Thursday morning, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment was included in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus funding legislation passed by the Senate, a spokesperson for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., confirmed to The Cannabist.

“While I’m glad that our medical marijuana protections are included, there is nothing to celebrate since Congress only maintained the status quo,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “These protections have been law since 2014. This matter should be settled once and for all. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans, across every party, strongly favor the right to use medical marijuana.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, who vowed to read the entire document, tweeted the “good news for states[sic] rights” that the language was included on page 240 of the 2,232-page bill.

The provision has been targeted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who last May sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that Rohrabacher-Blumenauer not be included in the appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018.

“It would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote.

Some lawmakers have hoped to take existing medical marijuana protections a step further by extending a similarly worded provision to state-legal regulations for adult-use cannabis. However, a bid to protect state recreational marijuana regimes was snuffed by Congress late Wednesday.

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner of Colorado were among 18 senators who wrote to the Senate Committee on Appropriations in February with the request that its members “respect states’ laws regarding the regulation of marijuana.”

The Denver Post reports the exclusion of recreational marijuana-focused protections Wednesday was a blow to Colorado legislators who sought more security for their state’s cannabis laws following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ scrapping of Obama-era guidance instructing prosecutors to leave those be.

Congressional aides told The Post that a slate of other controversial issues fighting to get in the massive bill — new gun rules, border security and funding for a major transportation project in the New York City area — complicated Colorado lawmakers’ efforts.

Marijuana advocates don’t consider the exclusion to be a total loss.

Don Murphy, the director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Denver Post that additional protections for recreational marijuana would have been a huge victory, given the current political environment.

“Maintaining the status quo in the Trump administration is a win,” Murphy told the Post, referencing the medical marijuana provisions.

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