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Congress Renews Key Medical Marijuana Protections

For two-and-a-half days last weekend, state-legal medical marijuana stood like a naked pacifist on a battlefield: vulnerable, defenseless and wide-open for a blow from the belligerents on the other side of the field. Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and lasting until Monday afternoon, when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stared down Donald Trump and the Republicans over the tips of his bifocals and cut a deal to keep the government running, vital state-legal medical marijuana protections vanished.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment

For the past few years cycles, we’ve had medical marijuana protections because of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. Basically, the U.S. Justice Department has been forbidden from pursuing prosecutions against medical cannabis activity that’s in accordance with state law thanks to this amendment tacked on to the federal budget.

The amendment removed all DOJ funding from such prosecutions, and without money, the government—just like the rest of us—can’t do much of anything at all.

Hugely significant when these protections were first applied, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment has been at risk of expiring before—the last time bickering over the budget meant a shutdown was looming, back in September—but it wasn’t until this latest impasse over immigration and border security that it actually happened.

And what did a world without Rohrabacher-Blumenauer look like? Exactly like a world with it.

There stood cannabis over the weekend, presenting itself like a lamb for the slaughter before a Justice Department within theory at least—new leeway to go and cut it down. And there it stood on Monday afternoon, with those protections restored in the temporary budget deal Schumer forged with Trump and the Republicans, untouched and unharmed.

What Now?

As NORML’s Paul Armentano noted, Rohrabacher-Blumenauer—so named for its sponsors, the odd couple of Portland’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a silver-haired bicycle advocate with a penchant for bowties, and Southern California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a self-proclaimed “Reagan Republican” who is also a Russian intelligence asset—is now active again until Feb. 8, the day when the current budget deal expires.

In the interim, drug-reform organizations are rallying their people to pester Congress to not only renew these expiring protections but to make them permanent.

It sounds nice and it certainly sounds necessary—but Congress has proved just as incapable of passing marijuana-friendly legislation as it is passing a budget.

For his “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act,” introduced last year, Rohrabacher has 42 co-sponsors—and exactly zero committee hearings. Remember your Schoolhouse Rock: a bill needs a hearing in order to become law, and without a call to be heard by a committee chair, the bill dies in limbo.

Final Hit: Congress Renews Key Medical Marijuana Protections

Ending this stalemate would require participation from key committee heads like U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)—the same Pete Sessions who refused to allow committee members to even so much as a vote on protecting state-legal marijuana from federal interference.

At the same time, the actions of last weekend suggest that the amendment might not be as important as it once was. Remember the old hippie saw about throwing a war and having nobody turn out? That’s what happened last weekend. It’s a good sign, but in order for the war to be truly over, there still needs to be an official peace treaty.

Otherwise, we’ll be repeating this exact same ritual over again in less than two weeks.

Congress Renews Key Medical Marijuana Protections

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