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Update 9/8/2017- Congress has approved a continuing resolution to keep the government open through December 8th, 2017. In addition to funding government agencies this continuing resolution also maintains that the Department of Justice can not use funds to prevent the implementation of a medical cannabis program or to prosecute patients. The continuing resolution extends the time for negotiations of the 2018 fiscal year budget. If the continuing resolution is signed by President Trump, this means that protections for medical cannabis patients will continue through December 8th. Under the previous continuing resolution, patient protections were set to expire on September 30th without Congressional action.
Unfortunately, the House Rules Committee blocked amendments related to medical cannabis from being voted on as part of the 2018 Appropriations process. Despite this setback in the House, protections for patients have been approved in the Senate version of the Appropriations bill. In the coming weeks, there will be a meeting of a conference committee which will resolve the differences between the Senate and House appropriations bills. We hope that the conference committee listens to millions of Americans who support the use of cannabis as medicine and include patient protections in the final bill they send to President Trump.
In addition to the pushing the conference committee to include patient protections, as always we will continue to work diligently to pass permanent legislation like the CARERS act to ensure patients are not made into criminals.
On September 5th, Congress will return from an over one month long recess to resume talks on the appropriations process, and attempt to prevent a government shutdown. The Senate will likely be talking about health care and tax reform, but the top priority for the House of Representatives will be an annual appropriations bill. The House must act before September 30th, otherwise there will be a government shutdown. The government is currently being funded by a continuing resolution which maintains funding levels from a previous year. As of right now, the House is only scheduled to work eight days before having another recess from September 15th-24th.
The appropriations bill the House will be considering is H.R. 3354 and it is over 1300 pages. Currently, over 900 amendments have been proposed to this bill. In order to determine which amendments will be approved to be voted on with the full appropriations package, the House Rules Committee will meet Tuesday, September 5th, at 4:00 PM ET. Due to the large volume of amendments it is very likely that only a small percentage will be included in a final bill. This could potentially mean that fifty, or even fewer, amendments will get a floor vote.
Among the amendments to be considered are several related to medical cannabis. Amendments include preventing the use of funds from limiting medical cannabis research or delaying research applications, tribal cannabis protections, reducing funds used for the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Program, and access to banking for cannabis business among others. There are also several amendments that while not specifically related to medical cannabis could impact patient access such as amendments tied to Department of Justice Grant Funding and amendments related to the opioid crisis.
Perhaps the most important amendment is the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis programs or prosecuting medical cannabis patients. This amendment has been incorporated into the appropriations process since 2014 and this year’s proposed amendment has significant bipartisan support, and has passed on the house floor with increasingly larger margins each year it has been presented.
However, there is no certainty that the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer will be included in the House Rules package. If this amendment is not included, medical cannabis patient protections could be dissolved on September 30th, putting patients at risk for prosecution
It is important to note that even if the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is not included in the House rules package that the fight is not over. In a Senate version of the appropriations bill, protections for patients were included by Senator Leahy (D-VT). After the House votes on their appropriations package, there will be a conference committee between the House and Senate to resolve the differences between their proposals before the final bill goes to president Trump to sign. It is also possible that all the drama surrounding the appropriations process ends in another continuing resolution, maintaining current funding levels and protections.
Regardless of whether or not the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is included in the House Rules package, we will keep fighting to ensure that all patients have safe access.