In ‘historic vote,’ US House protects state-legal cannabis programs

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In a landmark move Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives soundly approved by a 267-165 vote a bipartisan amendment that would protect state-legal cannabis programs from interference by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The amendment to the fiscal year 2020 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill specifically prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to prevent states, Washington DC and U.S. territories from implementing their adult-use and medical marijuana programs.

A similar amendment protecting tribal programs passed by a voice vote on Wednesday, as did an amendment that would protect Veterans Affairs doctors who recommend medical cannabis in states where it is legal.

Thursday’s vote marks the first time a congressional chamber has voted to fully protect state-legal cannabis programs from Justice Department interference.

Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, characterized Congress as making a “historic vote,” in effect declaring “that the federal government should defer to state cannabis laws.”

It’s unclear whether the provision will be supported in the Republican-controlled Senate.

And, even if the provision does make it in the final spending bill approved by Congress, it will be in effect only for one year.

The final version of the House amendment was submitted by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, Tom McClintock, a Republican from California, and Eleanor Norton, a delegate from Washington DC.

The marijuana industry has been lobbying for more permanent reform, such as through the STATES Act.

Since 2014, spending bill amendments have been passed that protected only state-legal medical cannabis programs. Such an MMJ protection provision also is part of the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill this year.

Jeff Smith can be reached at