By Danielle Keane, NORML Political Director
Members of Congress this morning unveiled the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation that is responsible for funding the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year. While stand alone marijuana related bills rarely gain traction in Congress, the annual omnibus appropriations bill has become a tool for federal lawmakers to pass marijuana related language into annual spending guidelines.
In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.
We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.
Unfortunately, separate provisions permitting doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and to prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are state recognized medical marijuana patients were eliminated from the final bill. Senate-backed language seeking to authorize financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed marijuana business was also rejected from the final bill.
Lastly, language prohibiting the District of Columbia from taxing and selling marijuana was included in the annual spending for the second year in the row. Current law allows for residents to grow, possess and share marijuana. But the sale and promotion will be prohibited for at least another year.
While we see success in having kept in place protections for state sponsored medical marijuana and hemp programs, it is nonetheless disappointing that members of Congress continue to unnecessarily insert themselves into a doctor-patient relationship with our country’s veterans and continue to deny licensed businesses access to needed banking services.
No ground has been lost, but Congress should know we’ll be back next year to gain more.
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