Congressional Republicans Block Marijuana Votes

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White House Defends D.C’s Ability to Set Its Own Marijuana Laws

A powerful Congressional committee just prevented two important marijuana law reform measures from being considered on the U.S. House floor.

Late Tuesday night, the House Rules Committee blocked amendments that would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to access banking services and let Washington, D.C. spend its own money to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana sales.

Advocates were hoping for votes in the full House on Wednesday when the body takes up the Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill. Such spending bills typically operate under what’s called an open rule, meaning that any member can bring any germane amendment to the floor. But in the wake of controversy surrounding gay rights amendments on other appropriations bills in recent weeks, House Republican leadership has cracked down, instead bringing bills forward under structured rules that only allow specific amendments to be considered.

But even though there won’t be House votes this year on banking services for cannabis businesses and rolling back federal interference with D.C. marijuana laws, it doesn’t necessarily mean that progress on those two issues is dead.

When the Senate Appropriations Committee considered its version of the financial services spending bill last week, it adopted an amendment to allow marijuana banking by a vote of 16-14. And unlike the House proposal, it doesn’t contain any provisions preventing the District of Columbia from legalizing cannabis sales. If the relevant language remains intact through passage by the full Senate, the issues will be worked out in a conference committee through which members of both chambers will negotiate and merge the differences between the bills into a single proposal to send to the president.

In 2014, the House approved an amendment to let marijuana businesses bank by a vote of 231 – 192, so there is support in the chamber for the reform, if only it could get past leadership for consideration by members.

During a brief Rules Committee discussion on the D.C. marijuana amendment, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is the District’s nonvoting representative, decried the effort to block the city from being able to set its own marijuana laws.

“Over and over again, devolving power and authority to state and local governments is the theme of this Congress. We want to remind you again that theme should not end at the District of Columbia border,” she said. “Out of respect for the people I represent, especially as full citizens of the United States, and out of respect for American democracy, I ask you to leave democratically-passed legislation to the local legislature in the District of Columbia.”

Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) agreed, saying, “I tire of the continuing arguments of what amounts to a form of abject colonialism by members of this body.”

The White House also weighed in against Congress interfering with D.C. marijuana laws.

“The Administration strongly opposes the restriction in section 809(b) of the bill on the use of both Federal and local funds for regulatory or legislative activity pertaining to recreational use of marijuana, which was approved by D.C. voters,” it said in a Statement of Administration Policy.

The House bill’s current language is actually much broader than riders enacted in previous years. Republicans expanded the scope of the ban to prevent D.C. officials from using a loophole to get around the current rider by using funds that are untouched by the existing block.

Under current law, D.C. officials are barred from using money covered by annual appropriations bills to legalize cannabis commerce. That specific language has left open the possibility that the city could use other pools of money it has available, such as contingency reserve funds appropriated in previous years, to regulate marijuana sales. Officials told Marijuana.com last year that they were considering doing so, but that wouldn’t be possible if the new House language survives the conference committee process and ends up on the president’s desk.

Norton’s amendment to undo the D.C. block was co-sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Alan Grayson (D-FL).

The banking amendment was sponsored by Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA), along with Rohrabacher and Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Joe Heck (R-NV), Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Photo Courtesy of underworld.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

9 Comments

  1. crochetgirl1950 on

    To get the message to everyone on the Hill, we need to vote out every politician standing for re-election this year and continue to do this until they pass Term Limits and change their benefits package to be in line with the benefits given to State workers in the state’s they represent.

  2. Beau Peepski on

    I would like a link to how each congress person voted, so I can contact mine and either thank them or chastise them for their vote.

  3. Here’s an extract from “Notes on Democracy” by Henry Louis Mencken, written in 1926, during Federal Alcohol Prohibition (1919-1933)

    The Prohibitionists, when they foisted their brummagem cure-all upon the country under cover of the war hysteria, gave out that their advocacy of it was based upon a Christian yearning to abate drunkenness, and so abolish crime, poverty and disease. They preached a [crime, poverty and disease free] millennium, and no doubt convinced hundreds of thousands of naive and sentimental persons, not themselves Puritans, nor even democrats.

    That millennium, as everyone knows, has failed to come in. Not only are crime, poverty and disease undiminished, but drunkenness itself, if the police statistics are to be believed, has greatly increased. The land rocks with the scandal. Prohibition has made the use of alcohol devilish and even fashionable, and so vastly augmented the number of users. The young of both sexes, mainly innocent of the cup under license, now take to it almost unanimously.

    In brief, Prohibition has not only failed to work the benefits that its proponents promised in 1917; it has brought in so many new evils that even the mob has turned against it. But do the Prohibitionists admit the fact frankly, and repudiate their original nonsense? They do not. On the contrary, they keep on demanding more and worse enforcement statutes — that is to say, more and worse devices for harassing and persecuting their opponents.

    The more obvious the failure becomes, the more shamelessly they exhibit their genuine motives. In plain words, what moves them is the psychological aberration called sadism. They lust to inflict inconvenience, discomfort, and whenever possible, disgrace upon the persons they hate, which is to say: upon everyone who is free from their barbarous theological superstitions, and is having a better time in the world than they are.

    They cannot stop the use of alcohol, nor even appreciably diminish it, but they can badger and annoy everyone who seeks to use it decently, and they can fill the jails with men taken for purely artificial offences, and they can get satisfaction thereby for the Puritan yearning to browbeat and injure, to torture and terrorize, to punish and humiliate all who show any sign of being happy. And all this they can do with a safe line of policemen and judges in front of them; always they can do it without personal risk.

    • This is really interesting and new to me. I’ve not read this passage before, thank you for finding this and taking the time to post it.
      I know quite a bit of alcohol prohibition’s history and I learned more just now, so my question is…
      Why am I doomed to repeat it?
      While I’m ranting I’m so tired of the fear monger form of government.
      I don’t own a gun but I have no problem with honest and SANE people having guns.
      But if the “no fly list” is intended to keep some goofball from weaponizing a 737 then shouldn’t it be used to keep a gun from this same idiot. I think yes, that doesn’t nullify the second amendment.
      The point I’d like to make is the fear used to scare voters to vote for these inept politicians should be a “huge” (pronounced “huuuuuuge”) red flag to not vote for these terrible candidates.
      This male bovine excrement is mostly to blame for the crazy condition of the world right now.
      And thanks again malcolmkyle…

    • Great post, Malcolm Kyle!
      It shows that we are going through the exact same thing, against the same prohibitionist opponents, 90 years later.
      And just like we were ultimately victorious over prohibition back then, so shall we be in our current time.

      Everyone VOTE pro-cannabis this November!

    • @Malcolm, Good Post!

      “The prestige of Government has been lowered considerably by the Prohibition Law. For nothing is more disrespectful of Government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increases in crime in this country is closely connected with this”. Albert Einstein, upon his visit to the United States in 1921.
      Sound familiar?

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