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Will Congress Approve Marijuana Proposals for the 2016 Federal Budget?

Federal lawmakers are burning the candle at both ends on Capitol Hill today in an attempt to hash out the final details of Uncle Sam’s new budget before the clock runs out on the current spending bill at the end of the day. Among the legislation wrapped up in this heated negotiation are several amendments aimed at providing protections for those states that have legalized marijuana.

One of the most popular proposals, which was included in last year’s spending bill, would prevent the Department of Justice and their cronies at the DEA from using federal funds to cause obstruction in states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, the measure was drafted with the intention of forcing the federal government to respect a state’s decision to legalize medical marijuana and prevent American tax dollars from being used to prosecute dispensaries and patients.

However, this amendment has been the source of a great deal of controversy over the past year due to liberal interpretations within the Department of Justice.

In April, a spokesperson for the DOJ told The Los Angeles Times that the amendment only hinders the department from “impending the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws,” but that it did nothing to stop them from shaking down the medical marijuana community. This prompted Rohrabacher and Farr to send a nasty letter to then Attorney General Eric Holder, encouraging him to bring the DOJ “back into compliance with federal law.”

Their plea was basically ignored, and the DEA busts continued. Yet, in October, a federal judge in California ruled in favor of the medical marijuana community, saying that the DOJ’s interpretation of the law “defies language and logic” and that their methods are “at odds with the fundamental notions of the rule of law.”

Another amendment on the table is one that would prevent the Department of Justice and the DEA from spending federal funds to interfere in those states with industrial hemp programs. This proposal was also included in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and was designed to stop federal drug enforcers from swooping in like they did in Kentucky last year, confiscating 250 pounds of hemp seed legally obtained through the permission of Congress. A number of states have passed legislation to research industrial hemp since receiving authorization under a 2014 federal farm bill. The renewal of this amendment would allow states to operate pilot hemp programs without any heat from the DEA.

Perhaps the most anticipated proposal under consideration for the Fiscal Year 2016 is one that allows physicians employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss medical marijuana with their patients, while also preventing veterans from receiving any penalty for participating in their respective state medical marijuana program. The U.S. Senate passed this amendment in November for inclusion in the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriation Bill.

If attached to the new spending bill, veterans would no longer risk losing prescription drug privileges or suffer any other consequences simply for testing positive for marijuana. Furthermore, it would open up the discussion over medical marijuana in VA clinics all over the country.

The cannabis industry as a whole has a lot to gain if a fourth amendment is included with the new budget.

This proposal would prevent the federal government from interfering with banks that opt to work with marijuana businesses. As of now, many larger financial institutions have avoided working with the marijuana industry out of fear of being slapped with federal money laundering charges. Even after a new set of guidelines was issue last year by the DOJ, essentially giving banks permission to engage in this practice under certain stipulations, most banks have still refused to work with weed until the government put a more concrete policy in place. This amendment could be a catalyst for the pot industry to move away from a cash-only system.

In addition to these four amendments, there are also several other proposals being considered for the Fiscal Year 2016 budget aimed at defunding the DEA. In upwards of $23 million stands to be removed from the piggy bank of Uncle Sam’s drug cops if all these amendments are attached to the new federal budget.

Although Friday is the deadline, Congress is expected to file an extension to prevent a government shutdown. However, the outcome of the latest budget will likely be revealed by the middle of next week.

 

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