The passage of a short-term spending bill could extend medical marijuana protections into early 2017. (Thinkstock / Getty Images)

Federal medical marijuana protections could get short extension

One benefit of a stopgap federal spending bill is the inclusion of a rider that bans the Justice Department from using funds to prevent medical marijuana states from implementing their laws

Federal lawmakers’ push for a short-term spending bill may result in the protections for medical marijuana states continuing at least through the first quarter of next year.

An extension of the funding bill to keep the government operational, currently slated to expire on Dec. 9, could also extend policy riders such as Section 542 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, which states that no funds be used to prevent any of the legal medical marijuana states from implementing their laws, Marijuana.com reported:

In August, a federal court ruled — over Justice Department objections — that the provision doesn’t merely block the U.S. government from stopping states from passing their own medical marijuana laws but also prevents federal prosecutors from going after patients and providers who are operating in accordance with those local policies.

But the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made it clear that the protections provide only temporary relief.

Advocates began 2016 feeling confident they’d be able to enact the amendment again. After all, huge bipartisan majorities of the House of Representatives are on record in support. In 2014 the measure passed 219-189. Last year the margin of victory grew to 242-186.

And this year the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment by a vote of 21-8.

Last week, Speaker Paul Ryan said the House would oblige with a request from President-elect Donald Trump to pass a stopgap bill that would allow the government to run at its same levels until March, according to The New York Times. Senate Republicans were not immediately on board with those plans, the Times reported, quoting Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as saying, “Discussions are also ongoing about how to fund the government and for how long.”

Trump’s administration wanted to have a “say-so on how spending is allocated” once the president-elect is in office, Ryan said, according to Reuters, which reported that some Democrats and Republicans disagreed with the short-term funding move.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a senior member of the appropriations committee, told The Hill that there likely would be additions to the short-term bill:

Several members have called for more defense spending as well as additional relief for flood victims. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Thursday he would personally push to complete the president’s request for supplemental war spending, which the chairman called “terribly important.”

Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) and others said pushing this year’s appropriations process into next March will make it tougher to write next year’s spending bills.

It will shorten the timeline for the appropriations process, which makes it even tougher as GOP leaders pursue a complex budget tactic called reconciliation.

It’s unclear what actions, if any, the new administration might take toward existing medical marijuana or recreational marijuana laws in U.S. states.

Trump has said he supports states’ rights and would not interfere with legal marijuana states, including recreational states such as Colorado. Trump’s nomination for attorney general is Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a supporter of states’ rights, but an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization and use.

Read Marijuana.com’s full report on the appropriations bill.