In a sign of marijuana opponents’ increasing desperation to distract from the legalization movement’s momentum, a leading prohibitionist organization is preemptively declaring victory in a key federal legislative fight. And that is drawing swift rebuke from members of Congress and activists who better understand the process.
“A proposed government spending bill released today eliminated a provision that has protected the marijuana industry from federal prosecution for violating the Controlled Substances Act,” crowed a Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) press release on Wednesday afternoon.
The provision in question is a rider to spending legislation that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. Known as the “Rohrabacher-Farr” (or “Rohrabacher-Blumenauer”) amendment, after its sponsors, it has been enacted into law annually, beginning in Fiscal Year 2015 through the current FY17 which ends on September 30.
SAM and its president, Kevin Sabet, are excited that House Republican leadership didn’t include the amendment in the just-introduced original subcommittee draft of the FY18 Justice Department appropriations bill.
🚨🚨BREAKING: Congress strips provision barring DOJ from spending money to enforce pot laws. This is a big change. https://t.co/HlUjJvdYJo
— Kevin Sabet (@KevinSabet) June 28, 2017
This is of course far from over, but pot investors have to be freaking out. It is indeed a new day.
— Kevin Sabet (@KevinSabet) June 28, 2017
But the medical marijuana protections have never been included in the House appropriations subcommittee’s original bills; they have always been added via strong bipartisan amendment votes later in the process on the House floor and/or in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sabet’s ignorance of legislative history and Congressional procedure spawned immediate pushback from drug policy reform activists who have closely tracked the amendment’s progress over more than a decade.
“The R/F amendment is NEVER in base bill, so hasn’t been ‘stripped,'” the Drug Policy Alliance’s lobbying office, which has been a key player in enacting the amendment in recent years, tweeted. “Nobody is worried – you’re Congressionally clueless, Kevin.”
DPA added: “A ‘new day?’ Actually it’s the same day as the last 3 years when it’s been won on the floor/in committee and made it to final bill.”
Members of Congress also jumped on Sabet’s premature chest-beating.
“SAM clearly doesn’t understand legislative process,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the amendment’s lead co-sponsor this year, tweeted. “SAM’s complete misrepresentation of the legislative process is entirely consistent with their repeated falsehoods about marijuana.”
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a lead sponsor of the amendment since it was first considered in 2003, joined Blumenauer in issuing a press release slapping down Sabet’s “false claims.”
“Our amendment has never been in the CJS Subcommittee’s bill. There is no news here,” Blumenauer said in the statement. “We are exactly where we thought we would be in the legislative process and look forward to amending the underlying bill once again this year to make sure medical marijuana programs, and the patients who rely on them, are protected.”
After the bill clears subcommittee and the full House Appropriations Committee, advocates will push to insert the cannabis amendment again through a floor vote. And they have every expectation — based on past votes, newly enacted state laws and the results of key Congressional races — that they will win again if the measure is cleared for consideration.
The full House approved the protections by a vote of 219 to 189 in 2014 and again with an even bigger margin of 242 to 186 in 2015. Since that last vote, states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and others have enacted new medical marijuana programs. And in some Congressional districts, pro-reform freshman Republicans were elected to replace retiring prohibitionists.
While there is a chance that the House Rules Committee could continue a relatively recent practice of blocking certain amendments that are perceived as controversial from coming to the floor for votes, advocates believe they will nonetheless get the chance to add the amendment through the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it was approved 21 to 9 in 2015 and 21 to 8 last year.
After being called out for misunderstanding the legislative process by activists and members of Congress, Sabet doubled down, falsely claiming that the amendment was initially passed in late 2015 — even though it was first enacted in 2014 and then omitted from the next year’s base bill before being added in again via overwhelming bipartisan House and Senate votes.
In his continuing arguments, Sabet seems to be focusing on the fact that the medical cannabis protections were continued in omnibus spending legislation enacted last month. In that case, the rider was included in the initial version of the bill, but only because Congress didn’t hold a comprehensive appropriations process this year through which individual department bills were considered but instead wrapped everything into one bill and as a general rule automatically continued most provisions that were included in the previous year’s legislation.
On Thursday, SAM sent a follow-up press release alleging that Blumenauer and Rohrabacher are “funded by illegal marijuana operations selling pot candies to kids.”
The second release also references a letter that they and 42 other House members sent earlier this year asking lead appropriators to continue the medical cannabis language in the FY18 bill.
“Now, like the fox and the sour grapes, they changed their tune once they didn’t get what they wanted,” Sabet said.
But while reformers certainly would’ve liked to have had the rider in the base bill for the first time this year, it wasn’t something they needed. And that it didn’t happen isn’t considered a setback in light of the fact that original Justice Department FY15 and FY16 funding legislation didn’t include the medical marijuana provision either; it was later added via amendments just as advocates expect will happen this year.
In a letter first reported by MassRoots, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an ardent marijuana opponent, recently asked Congressional leadership to oppose continuing the protections in new legislation. Days later, lawmakers nonetheless included the language in the omnibus bill.
In a related development, Sabet also cheered the release of separate appropriations legislation on Wednesday which covers the District of Columbia. That bill, as in previous years, contains a rider preventing Washington, D.C. from spending its own money to legally regulate marijuana sales despite support from local elected officials. Advocates believe they may have the votes to strip that provision later in the process this year.
The kerfuffle about the marijuana provisions, or lack thereof, in the new spending legislation is part of a series of overconfident messaging that Sabet and SAM have been deploying in recent weeks, often seeming to grasp for whatever they can send a snarky communique about.
For example, after it was announced last week that the Marijuana Policy Project is losing its 22-year-old bank account, SAM sent a press release titled, “PNC Bank Closing Bank Accounts of Major Marijuana Lobby-Industry Group as Potential DOJ Enforcement Looms over Pot Businesses and Companies Who Service Them.”
Sabet even referred to “our friends at PNC” in a tweet.
The prohibitionists have also tried to make a big deal out of the Vermont legislature’s failure to suspend rules during a short legislative session to take final action on a legalization proposal.
Today, Big Marijuana lost:
-their bank account
-Vermont, of all places
What was that about "inevitable"?
— Kevin Sabet (@KevinSabet) June 22, 2017
While lawmakers came just shy last week of enacting a marijuana legalization bill in the first half of Vermont’s current legislative biennium, they have high hopes of getting it over the finish line when the state House and Senate reconvene in January now that there is committed support for a specific legalization plan from Gov. Phil Scott and a majority in both chambers.
Sabet has also spent recent weeks claiming victory in the effort to defeat state legislation that the marijuana policy reform movement had no expectation of passing in 2017 and made virtually no concerted effort to build support for.
For example, he declared New Hampshire’s failure to pass a legalization bill in 2017 as a big loss for cannabis activists, even though major organizations actually focused this legislative session on making New Hampshire the last state in New England to decriminalize marijuana possession, an effort that succeeded (pending a final signature from vocally supportive Gov. Chris Sununu (R)).
Leglzn wins '17: 0
Losses: VT, CT, MD, NH, NM, DE,RI (soon!)https://t.co/XQGNZVesyZ
— Kevin Sabet (@KevinSabet) June 22, 2017
And West Virginia legalized medical cannabis this year — something even the most optimistic legalization advocates did not expect.
Meanwhile, Sabet and his colleagues have succeeded in repealing exactly zero of the reform movement’s legalization or medical marijuana gains to date. Since Sabet formed SAM in 2013, the number of states with legal recreational marijuana has quadrupled.
And public support for ending prohibition continues to rise, according to opinion surveys. The most recent Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans back legalization, compared to just 48 percent in late 2012 just before SAM began its work.
The momentum doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon. In addition to the likelihood that the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer medical cannabis amendment will be approved with strong bipartisan support in Congress again soon, advocates are also looking to advance measures on Capitol Hill concerning marijuana banking, industrial hemp and other matters.
And they have already succeed in qualifying a medical cannabis amendment for Oklahoma’s 2018 ballot and are also working to place similar measures before Missouri and Utah voters, and to qualify a full marijuana legalization initiative in Michigan.
In the meantime, the spending bills concerning the Justice Department and Washington, D.C. will both be considered by relevant appropriations subcommittees on Thursday. Advocates are not expected to push for votes on the marijuana provisions at this stage because they believe they have a better chance later in the process and don’t want to jeopardize those efforts by starting off with losing votes.
See below for the full press releases from Reps. Blumenauer and Rohrabacher and from Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
Reps. Blumenauer and Rohrabacher Rebuke False Claims Regarding Critical Medical Marijuana Protections
Washington, DC – Today, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) rebuked false claims made by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) that critical medical marijuana protections were stripped from Fiscal Year 2018 funding legislation.
The policy championed by Representatives Blumenauer and Rohrabacher that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering in the ability of states to implement legal medical marijuana laws (previously known as “Rohrabacher-Farr”) has never been included in the base Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Subcommittee Appropriations bill. Rather, in previous years, Congress has amended the base CJS bill to include these critical protections.
Representative Blumenauer said: “The folks at SAM clearly don’t understand the legislative process. Our amendment has never been in the CJS Subcommittee’s bill. There is no news here. We are exactly where we thought we would be in the legislative process and look forward to amending the underlying bill once again this year to make sure medical marijuana programs, and the patients who rely on them, are protected. Voters in states across the country have acted to legalize medical marijuana. Congress should not act against the will of the people who elected us.”
Marijuana Industry Loses Key Protection from Federal Enforcement in Proposed Spending Bill
ALEXANDRIA, Va.–A proposed government spending bill released today eliminated a provision that has protected the marijuana industry from federal prosecution for violating the Controlled Substances Act.
The Rohrabacher-Farr language was eliminated from the Commerce, Justice, Science bill that funds the Department of Justice, even though it had previously been included in the 2017 base text. In addition, the Financial Services bill retained language preventing Washington, DC from implementing full retail sales and commercialization of recreational marijuana.Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) submitted testimony to the Appropriations Committee to push back against this provision, which has allowed unsafe and untested products to masquerade as medicine. Rather than submit their products to the FDA for approval as safe and effective medicines, the marijuana industry has instead been using medical marijuana laws as a guise to increase demand for marijuana consumption and service the black market with large amounts of high-potency marijuana.
“If I were an investor, I would sell my marijuana stocks short,” said Kevin Sabet, President of SAM. “The marijuana industry has lost in every state in which they were pushing legislation in 2017, the industry’s largest lobbying group is losing its bank account , and now they are losing protection that has helped them thrive despite marijuana’s illegal status. Although the debate over Rohrbacher-Farr is far from over, the bad news just keeps coming for the pot industry. But it’s great news for parents, prevention groups, law enforcement, medical professionals, victims’ rights advocates and everyone who cares about putting public health before profits.”
Evidence demonstrates that marijuana – which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decade – is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents. Moreover, in states that have already legalized the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes and youth marijuana use. States that have legalized marijuana have also failed to shore up state budget shortfalls with marijuana taxes, continue to see a thriving black market, and are experiencing a continued rise in alcohol sales.
Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is a nonpartisan, non-profit alliance of physicians, policy makers, prevention workers, treatment and recovery professionals, scientists, and other concerned citizens opposed to marijuana legalization who want health and scientific evidence to guide marijuana policies. SAM has affiliates in more than 30 states. For more information about marijuana use and its effects, visit http://www.learnaboutsam.org.
SAM Statement Regarding Removal of DOJ Marijuana Enforcement Barriers from Proposed CJS Appropriations Bill
ALEXANDRIA, Va.– “On April 4, Representatives Rohrabacher and Blumenauer, two Members of Congress funded by illegal marijuana operations selling pot candies to kids, wrote appropriators asking to include their pro-marijuana language in a base spending bill—and they expected to get their way,” stated Kevin A. Sabet, a former three-time White House advisor who is now President and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).
“Now, like the fox and the sour grapes, they changed their tune once they didn’t get what they wanted. Despite their earlier letter, they issued a press release last night saying they never expected to get this amendment into the base spending bill in the first place.
“When a politician says, ‘nothing to see here,’ there is usually something to see. The problem for them is, their earlier letter speaks for itself.
“The reality is that things have changed for the pro-pot lobby this year. The biggest pot lobbying group lost their bank account and legalization failed in Vermont, Maryland, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. The Attorney General sent a letter to Congress on May 1 asking for this pro-pot language to be removed. SAM itself submitted testimony on April 28 outlining reasons for removing the medical marijuana language: state medical marijuana programs are driving a massive increase of black market sales.
“Because states are unable to control the marijuana market within their borders, the federal government should have the full set of tools to assist them.
“This fight isn’t over, of course,” continued Sabet. “Like Big Tobacco, the pot industry and the politicians they pay will keep trying to push pro-drug laws with their deep pockets. Our side—parents, public health professionals, employers, and communities hurt by this generation’s Big Tobacco—will continue to fight for science and evidence over greed.
“The battle isn’t over, and we don’t expect them to give up. Neither will we.”
Evidence demonstrates that marijuana – which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades – is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents. Moreover, in states that have already legalized the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes and youth marijuana use. States that have legalized marijuana have also failed to shore up state budget shortfalls with marijuana taxes, continue to see a thriving black market, and are experiencing a continued rise in alcohol sales.