Senate Committee Approves Mikulski Medical Marijuana Amendment with Strong Bipartisan Support

In a huge victory today for medical marijuana patients, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee markup hearing on the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill, the a bipartisan group of senators voted 21-9 to adopt the Mikulski Amendment to the DOJ budget for FY2016. The amendment language mirrors that of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which passed last week in the House, 242-186 with 67 Republicans and 175 Democrats. (See below for the vote results.)

Of additional importance, the amendment language that was approved today is the functional equivalent of Section 2 of the CARERS Act, which protects people acting in accordance with state medical marijuana laws from federal inference.  With 95% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans on the committee supporting this language, it is clear that the CARERS Act remains viable and has a real chance for passage in this session if it were to make its way to a vote. Currently the bill is lingering without a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it will be harder for Committee Chair Grassley to not move forward with the bill after today's vote. Take action here to urge the Senate and House to pass CARERS.

During the hearing today, Senator Mikulski (D-MD) spoke passionately and intelligently about the need to protect medical marijuana patients and their access to medicine. She referred to the patients and families featured in the Dateline NBC special, Growing Hope, which documented the experience of 3 Virginia families who worked to bring CBD and THC-A protections to their state. Senator Leahy (D-VT) bolstered the argument by pointing out that the amendment helps DOJ focus on real problems like protecting citizens from violent criminals instead of busting state-legal parties engaging in medical conduct.

The opposition was not silent, with Senators Shelby (R-AL) and Feinstein (D-CA) speaking out against safe and legal access for patients. While both opposition senators expressed a desire for more research on marijuana, Shelby claimed it was wrong for the federal government to ignore federal law, while Feinstein said marijuana was a gateway drug. The unfortunate reality of Shelby and Feinstein's pro-research but anti-access now stance is that they are insisting that patients suffer until the federal government can finally figure out how to eliminate research barriers, then wait for the research to come in before patients can legally get relief from medical marijuana therapy. This position means that the estimated 2.4 million Americans currently registered in state legal medical marijuana programs must suffer until the research catches up.  As disappointing as Feinstein, Shelby, and the other "no" votes are, it is still a measure of progress that the opposition is speaking in favor of research. 

The amendment still must be signed by the president when the CJS bill reaches his desk. The current protections of last year's version of the amendment will expire at the end of September 2015. If signed by President Obama, the amendment will extend the protections for 12 months through the end of September 2016.

Senator Mikulski along with Representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr won the ASA Elected Official of the Year for 2014 for their work to get the amendment language through for the first time last year. Here is Senator Mikulski's video acceptance speech of the award from the ASA 2015 Unity Conference.

Vote results: 

Cochran (MS) - No
Shelby (AL) - No
Alexander (TN) - Yes
Collins (ME) - Yes
Murkowski (AK) - Yes
Graham (SC) - No
Kirk (IL) - No
Blunt (MO) - Yes
Boozman (AR) - No
Cassidy (LA) - Yes
Daines (MT) - Yes
McConnell (KY) - No
Moran (KS) - Yes
Hoeven (ND) - No
Lankford (OK) - No
Capito (WV) - Yes
Mikuslki (MD) - Yes
Feinstein (CA) - No
Murray (WA) - Yes
Leahy (VT) - Yes
Reed (RI) - Yes
Shaheen (NH) - Yes
Udall (NM) - Yes
Merkley (OR) - Yes
Schatz (HA) - Yes
Durbin (IL) - Yes
Coons (DE) - Yes
Tester (MT) - Yes
Baldwin (WI) - Yes
Murphy (CT) - Yes