Until Wednesday, the most reliable bulwark against a Trump administration crackdown on legal marijuana were Trump Republicans.
Across the country, in California and in Florida and in MAGA country in between, conservative lawmakers—and we’re talking real conservatives’ conservatives—took one look at the political calculus and realized that cannabis was too bipartisan and too popular to fail with a Justice Department crackdown.
It’s for this reason that a Vladimir Putin-loving, InfoWars-level Republican, Southern California’s Dana Rohrabacher, has served as the co-author—with a bicycle-riding, bow-tie wearing liberal from Portland!—of the key congressional budget amendment that, so far, has kept Jeff Sessions away from legal medical marijuana programs active in more than half the country.
When tested by Sessions earlier this spring, Congress stood firm. Go away, they told him; nobody aside from a handful of diehards unaware that the war is over wants your stupid crackdown.
But this is the Trump era. Nothing makes sense, the center hasn’t held for so long nobody can agree where it is, and the falcon was last seen pecking the falconer’s eyes out. Pure meanness and spite are also acceptable political motives.
On Wednesday morning, not long before the president cucked House Speaker Paul Ryan and gave the Democrats the deal they wanted on raising the debt ceiling, Ryan and other GOP leaders in Congress announced plans to block even so much as a vote on renewing the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment.
And indeed, on Wednesday evening, the House Rules Committee, led by Texas Republican Pete Sessions (no relation to the Gollum of the Confederacy leading the Justice Department), blocked a series of marijuana-related amendments from consideration.
“They said it splits the conference too much, so we’re not gonna have a vote on it,” said California Republican Duncan Hunter, in comments to The Hill, which first broke news of leadership’s decision to squelch even a discussion.
Hunter, of course, realizes that that’s not true, as does everyone else. The move to dishonestly prevent even a vote is “unconscionable,” Rohrabacher said.
If allowed a vote on the House floor, our Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amdt would pass overwhelmingly w/ bipartisan support like in years before.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) September 7, 2017
Regardless, this is a major setback for marijuana legalization, which now must rely on the United States Senate to ensure inevitable progress isn’t needlessly delayed by a retrograde crackdown.
First applied in 2014, Rohrabacher-Blumenauer blocks all funding for Justice Department efforts to crack down on medical marijuana operations that obey state law. It’s allowed dispensaries shut down by the DOJ to reopen and has given sick people who use cannabis—as well as their suppliers, who flout federal law every day—some measure of protection.
For four years, the amendment has passed with broad bipartisan support.
Since then, support has only grown, among both the public and among lawmakers, liberal, conservative or InfoWars-crazy. But for some reason, with hurricanes bashing the coast to bits, with Trump paving the way to deport hundreds of thousands of American-educated people, now’s no longer the time. To even talk about it.
House Republicans also blocked amendments that would have allowed cannabis businesses to hold bank accounts and would have protected medical marijuana research.
The Justice Department declined to comment on this most recent development, according to the Washington Examiner.
“By blocking our amendment, committee leadership is putting at risk the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana for treatment, as well as the clinics and businesses that support them,” Rohrabacher and Rep. Earl Blumenauer said in a statement after Wednesday night’s vote. “This decision goes against the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly oppose federal interference with state marijuana laws.”
“Opposing seriously ill patients’ access to medical cannabis is sick enough, but blocking the people’s representatives from even being able to vote on the matter is just obscene,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, a cannabis activist group. “Forty-six states now allow some form of medical marijuana and polls consistently show that more than 90 percent of voters support the issue, but a small handful of congressional ‘leaders’ decided behind closed doors to kill this amendment without due consideration. Marijuana reform opponents know that the only way they can impede our progress is by using dirty legislative tricks. But they won’t be able to do this without people noticing.”
As of now, the amendment may expire along with current budget provisions as early as Sept. 30.
However, with no agreement on a full fiscal year 2018 budget in place, Congress is expected to pass a short-term budget extension until Dec. 15.
Similar language is still alive in Congress—in the U.S. Senate, where the appropriations committee in July approved a budget bill with the amendment’s language intact. In order to become law, it must now survive a joint House-Senate committee.
This isn’t over! As House & Senate finalize funding bill, we will fight for patients & to continue critical medical marijuana protections.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) September 7, 2017
How likely is this?
It all depends on who’s on the committee. And keep in mind who runs the Senate. Mitch McConnell isn’t exactly friendly to anything drug-policy reform related. And there are key Senate Democrats—we’re thinking of you, San Francisco’s own Dianne Feinstein—who have been reliable opponents of reform for as long as they’ve been in office.
It’s not over, and as this recent fiasco demonstrated, anything is possible and nothing is written with this current government. And Jeff Sessions doesn’t need the amendment to go away to start cracking down on cannabis.
But this is absolutely bad. And, in the backhanded fashion in which it was done, altogether typical.