The dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong, Getty Images)

House Rules Committee hears key marijuana amendments

A federal legislative committee could soon determine the fate of several proposals to protect existing and future state marijuana laws, businesses and research.

On Wednesday, The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Rules continued hearing testimony and considering amendments to the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act 2018 (H.R. 3354), a spending bill set to go before Congress later this month.

UPDATE: Rules Committee blocks floor votes on marijuana amendments

Headlining the marijuana-related proposals heard by the committee is the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, which would bar the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with existing state-enacted medical marijuana regulations.

The amendment formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr (Rep. Sam Farr has retired) has been implemented in previous years; however, its continued adoption during the current administration has been questioned. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote to congressional leaders earlier this year opposing the amendment’s inclusion, stating it inhibits the Justice Department’s ability to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, wrote an op-ed published in The Washington Post this week calling on Republicans in particular to support his amendment, and spoke at length Tuesday before his colleagues on the House floor.

During testimony Wednesday, Rohrabacher continued his plea to ensure the amendment makes it to the House floor:

“To deny (members of Congress) the right to have a vote, I think, is unconscionable,” Rohrabacher said.

“Let us vote on this issue,” he added.

Politics news site The Hill reported Wednesday, citing Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, that House GOP leaders planned to block Rohrabacher-Blumenauer from reaching the House floor.

Rohrabacher and co-sponsors Jared Polis, D-Colorado, and Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, made note that the medical marijuana protections are existing law and that public opinion is in favor of the existing medical cannabis regulations in 46 states.

“It would be a tragic mistake to lose the progress that we made,” Blumenauer said before the committee.

If Rohrabacher-Blumenauer failed to make the Rules Committee’s cut, it would not be a death knell for the amendment, legislative sources tell The Cannabist.

The potential short-term funding deal revealed Wednesday likely would include the existing Rohrabacher-Farr language, extending those protections through year’s end if it is approved. Additionally, the Senate Appropriations Committee authorized the medical marijuana protections amendment for inclusion in the larger spending bill.

Other marijuana-related amendments before the Rules Committee include measures to prohibit the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana research, the firming up of banking regulations, and the status of cannabis in Washington, D.C.

Dennis “Denny” Heck, D-Washington, sponsored three amendments to allow for marijuana businesses to have access to banking. His proposals would prohibit the punishment of financial institutions that serve licensed marijuana businesses and prevent the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network from walking back or shelving its guidance for banks that work with marijuana firms.

“I think we all would recognize, we want (marijuana businesses) well-regulated,” Heck said.

These businesses being essentially forced to work primarily on a cash basis creates the potential for public harm, he said, referencing the June 2016 dispensary robbery in Aurora, Colo., that resulted in the death of security guard Travis Mason.

“Because criminals thought this was an all-cash business, they walked in and that young man named Travis Mason was shot dead,” Heck said. “This is a public safety issue.”

Which amendments made the cut are expected to be decided by Wednesday night. The appropriations bill with the approved amendments would then move to the floor of the House for a vote.

Watch the committee hearing:

All marijuana-related amendments that could be considered as part of the appropriations bills:

Division C: Commerce, Justice, Science

#9: Rohrabacher (CA), Blumenauer (OR), Young, Don (AK), Polis (CO), McClintock (CA), Lee, Barbara (CA), Joyce (OH), Cohen (TN), Gaetz (FL), Titus (NV), Coffman (CO), Lewis, Jason (MN), Rosen (NV), Correa (CA)
Prohibits the Department of Justice from prosecuting individuals who are in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana laws, or otherwise interfering with the implementation of such laws.

#72: Polis (CO)
Prohibits funds from being used to pay the salaries or expenses of personnel to fail to act on a marijuana research application.

#97: Lieu (CA), Polis (CO), Young, Don (AK), Titus (NV)
Reduces funds in the DEA Salaries and Expenses used for the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Marijuana Suppression Program. Increases the spending reduction account by the same amount.

#99: McClintock (CA), Polis (CO), Blumenauer (OR), Amash (MI), Coffman (CO), Cohen (TN), Curbelo (FL), Heck, Denny (WA), Lee, Barbara (CA), Perlmutter (CO), Pocan (WI), Sanford (SC), Rohrabacher (CA), Young, Don (AK), Hunter (CA), Smith, Adam (WA)
Provides that none of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands within their respective jurisdictions.

#141: Titus (NV), Polis (CO), Blumenauer (OR)
Late Prohibits the Department of Justice from prosecuting individuals from federally recognized Indian tribes who are in compliance with their tribal medical marijuana laws, or otherwise interfering with the implementation of such laws.

Division D: Financial Services

#4 Norton: (DC), Rohrabacher (CA), Blumenauer (OR), Lee, Barbara (CA)
Permits the District of Columbia to spend its local funds to regulate and tax recreational marijuana.

#89 Heck, Denny: (WA), Young, Don (AK), Perlmutter (CO), Lee, Barbara (CA), Titus (NV)
Blocks FinCEN from revoking guidance on how financial institutions should provide banking services to legitimate marijuana businesses.

#90: Heck, Denny (WA), Young, Don (AK), Gaetz (FL), Perlmutter (CO), Lee, Barbara (CA), Titus (NV), Rosen (NV), McClintock (CA), Blumenauer (OR)
Revised Prohibits funds from being used to penalize a financial institution for serving a legitimate marijuana business.

#91: Heck, Denny (WA), Young, Don (AK), Perlmutter (CO), Lee, Barbara (CA), Titus (NV)
Blocks FinCEN from altering guidance on how financial institutions should provide banking services to legitimate marijuana businesses.

Cannabist Digital Producer Polly Washburn contributed to this report.

CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to reflect that The Hill article cited Rep. Duncan Hunter provided details about GOP leadership’s plans to not allow the amendments.