The House of Representatives voted in favor of the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton-Lee amendment. It restricts the Department of Justice (DOJ) from spending taxpayer dollars to enforce federal anti-cannabis laws in the states that regulate legal cannabis.
The final vote total was 254 to 163, with 97% of the Democratic caucus (222 of 228 voting). 16% of the Republican caucus (31 of 188 voting) were in favor. This important vote came 96 days before the November elections. A greater percentage of the American public supports legalization than ever before.
Congressional Cannabis Policy
“This is the most significant vote on marijuana policy reform that the House of Representatives has taken this year,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “It is time for Congress to acknowledge this reality and retain these protections in the final spending bill.”
Since 2014, Congress has passed annual spending bills protecting those in legal cannabis from undue prosecution by the DOJ. The Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton-Lee amendment expands protections. It includes activities specific to the production and sale of cannabis to adults in the 11 states that have legalized the plant.
Similar language was passed by the House last year. But the provision was stripped out of the final appropriations package in the conference committee. The House of Representatives has been consistently receptive to changing cannabis policy in recent years.
“The next logical step for House Leadership is to bring legislation to the floor to end prohibition and demonstrate to the American people that the era of marijuana criminalization is drawing to a close,” Strekal said.
According to two prominent polls released last year, a super-majority of the public supports legalization. That includes majorities of Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters. Overall, 67 percent said yes, while 32 percent said no.
Nonetheless, there has been no further discussion or advancement of a cannabis bill in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains completely against removing the criminalities from cannabis.
The legal cannabis markets were previously protected by the Cole Memo issued in 2013 by Deputy Attorney General James Cole during the Obama Administration. However, Jeff Sessions, as AG, rescinded it in 2017. A DOJ memo is a flimsy way to protect the legal cannabis markets in the first place.
Legal Cannabis Markets
Nonetheless, the nominees for the major parties have both avoided explicitly voicing support for marijuana legalization. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is against full legalization. As such, the 2020 Democratic campaign platform does not support legalization.
In July, the Biden campaign released recommendations that called to “decriminalize marijuana use and reschedule it through executive action on the federal level.”
However, NORML believes rescheduling cannabis under federal law is impractical and counterproductive. Most Americans want cannabis treated like alcohol, which is unscheduled under federal law. They do not desire to have cannabis regulated like either cocaine or oxycodone. Both are currently classified as Schedule II controlled substances and carry criminal penalties for the mere possession of the substance without a prescription.
This November, voters in various states, including red states such as Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota, are anticipated to be deciding on ballot initiatives to legalize the distribution of marijuana for either medical or adult use. If passed, the total number of legal cannabis market states will rise from 11 to 15, and the number of medical marijuana legalization states will increase from 33 to 36.