The U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press file)

66 Congress members make plea to extend protection for medical marijuana states

With the current federal appropriations bill set to expire Dec. 8, there’s a new bipartisan call for continuing protection of medical marijuana states.

Two congressmen behind a namesake provision for medical cannabis, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, on Wednesday sent a letter co-signed by 64 of their peers to House and Senate leadership.

The letter, addressed to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, urged them to extend the “Rohrabacher-Blumenauer” provision that has been in place since December 2014, which “has successfully protected patients, providers, and businesses against federal prosecution, so long as they act within the confines of their state’s medical marijuana laws.”

The missive also listed the 46 states, along with two U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, which have enacted some form of legalization of medical cannabis, “from CBD oils to the full plant.”

Related: Sessions says DOJ just talked “at some length” about marijuana enforcement

It was signed by five of Colorado’s seven House representatives: Republicans Ken Buck and Mike Coffman; and Democrats Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis. Republicans Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn did not sign it.

The measure, previously known as “Rohrabacher-Farr” (Rep. Sam Farr retired in 2016), prevents the Justice Department from using its resources to pursue prosecutions involving cannabis when a state’s medical marijuana laws have been followed, and its presence has had an impact in federal courts.

Earlier this year, a judge suspended the case of two California men who had pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiring to manufacture and sell marijuana; the judge cited the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment in what is believed to be the first such ruling of its kind.

Another case involved medical marijuana growers in Washington state, who were convicted in 2015. In October, federal prosecutors acknowledged they shouldn’t have spent taxpayer dollars on the trial.

The provision has been targeted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in May sent a letter of his own to congressional leadership asking that it not be included in the appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018, stating: “It would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”

Earlier this year, the measure was approved in the Senate version of the spending bill, but not the House’s.

The Senate Appropriations Committee included the amendment language in the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018. In September, the measure was rejected from consideration for a floor vote by GOP leadership in the House Rules Committee.

(A list of signatories is included below the letter.)