Connecting state and local government leaders

Bipartisan Support for Amendment That Would Block DOJ Crackdown on State-Regulated Marijuana

In this Oct. 4, 2016, file photo, farmworkers transport newly-harvested marijuana plants, at Los Suenos Farms, America's largest legal open air marijuana farm, in Avondale, southern Colorado.

In this Oct. 4, 2016, file photo, farmworkers transport newly-harvested marijuana plants, at Los Suenos Farms, America's largest legal open air marijuana farm, in Avondale, southern Colorado. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

"I feel that a majority of the House would support this," said U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat. Nearly 70 lawmakers have signed a letter in favor of the provision.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, said Friday afternoon that about 70 lawmakers have backed an amendment to upcoming spending legislation that would block the Justice Department from cracking down on businesses and individuals that are in compliance with state marijuana laws.

Polis and Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, have proposed the amendment before. But it has received new attention since Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week rescinded Department of Justice marijuana enforcement guidance that had provided a framework for states that allow legal marijuana production and sales.

As of Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for Polis's office said 54 Democratic and 15 Republican lawmakers had signed on to a letter to House leaders voicing support for the McClintock-Polis amendment. The provision would restrict the DOJ from using funds on activities that prevent states from implementing their own marijuana laws.

"Its urgency has increased because of the recent actions by the attorney general," Polis said of the amendment during a brief phone interview. "And I think that's really why we've seen this outpouring of support from both sides of the aisle for this funding restriction." 

"I feel that a majority of the House would support this," he added.

An existing budget rider prohibits the Justice Department from spending money on marijuana enforcement that would impede states from implementing medical cannabis laws. The McClintock-Polis amendment would effectively broaden this spending prohibition to cover state-regulated, recreational marijuana as well.

Currently, the federal government is operating under a stopgap spending measure that expires on Jan. 19. Marijuana-related amendments could be attached to spending legislation lawmakers enact to extend government funding beyond that deadline.

Beyond pushing for the budget rider, Polis said he and other lawmakers are trying to convince President Trump to override Sessions' recent decision on marijuana enforcement.

Polis has also introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which has 22 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats except for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican.

The bill would remove pot from a category of illegal drugs the federal government deems to be the most dangerous and transition marijuana oversight responsibilities from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Alaska, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have passed laws allowing for the personal possession and consumption of marijuana by adults, according to NORML, a group that advocates for the regulated legalization of marijuana. About 30 states have regulatory programs in place that allow for medical marijuana.

"It's hard to get Congress to act," Polis said. But he added: "I feel we have a working majority of House members, and the Senate, that want to reform our outdated federal marijuana laws."

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Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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