US House Votes to Respect States’ Medical Marijuana and Hemp Legalization

by | May 31, 2014

Medical Marijuana Sign

An appropriations bill passed Friday in the United States House of Representatives and on its way to the US Senate contains provisions calling for the United States government to stop treading on states’ efforts to legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp.

The majority of House members voted on Friday to respect states’ legalization of medical marijuana and hemp in two amendments to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 4660). First, the House approved by a vote of 237 to 170 an amendment introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) regarding industrial hemp. Immediately following the hemp amendment vote, the House approved by a vote of 219 to 189 a similar amendment concerning medical marijuana introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

Because of House amendment rules, the wording of the amendments could not state as clearly as could stand-alone legislation that the US government is prohibited in a state from enforcing US laws that prohibit or punish activities related to medical marijuana and hemp that are in compliance with the state’s law. Yet, the debate in the House on both amendments reflected the understanding that such a message is being conveyed in the amendments. The amendments may be read below.

Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Paul Broun (R-GA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Don Young (R-AK) cosponsored the medical marijuana amendment.

Reps. Blumenauer, Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Polis cosponsored the hemp amendment.

While each of the amendments had bipartisan sponsorship, the votes of the full House membership revealed a large partisan division. Over 90% of voting Democrat members voted “yes” on each of the two amendments. Of the Republican members who voted on the amendments, by contrast, only 22% and 30%, respectively, voted “yes” on the medical marijuana and hemp amendments.

The medical marijuana amendments states:

At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:

Sec. __. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

The hemp amendment states:

At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:

Sec. __. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to prevent a State from implementing its own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of industrial hemp, as defined in section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79).

The states, along with the District of Columbia, listed in the medical marijuana amendment have adopted laws legalizing, in various ways and to various extents, medical marijuana.

The definition of industrial hemp referred to in the hemp amendment is the one found in the partial hemp legalization included in the farm bill President Barack Obama signed into law earlier this year—“ Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [(THC)] concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” Industrial hemp is thus defined as having a THC content so low that it is impossible for anyone to “get high” from eating, smoking, or otherwise consuming it.

Will the Senate approve the appropriations bill with these House provisions respecting states’ medical marijuana and hemp legalization? Given the very strong Democrat support for the provisions in the House, there is reason to expect that these provisions would be easily approved in the Democrat majority Senate. Additionally, letting the two provisions become law as part of a larger bill would allow the US government to quickly and quietly back away from parts of the war on drugs for which the public is withdrawing support and the US government is losing the ability to enforce.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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