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Here at Ladybud, we have often reported on exciting moments, such as when lawmakers at the state and federal level introduce or pass specific legislation intended to legalize cannabis. However, many times, the biggest political moves don’t occur as independent legislation or laws of their own. Sweeping legal changes can often occur as the result of additions or riders on other important legislation. For example, the tax overhaul bill passed in 2017 opened up the Arctic National Refuge to drilling.
This is a positive sign for the many people worried about the seemingly negative federal attitude toward cannabis. Cannabis legalization activists across the country were disappointed but not surprised when the Attorney General Jeff sessions officially reversed the Cole memo. As a refresher, the Cole memo was an Obama-era document that directed federal policy away from enforcing cannabis prohibition in states with legal programs, provided that individuals and businesses comply with state laws.
With the reversal of the Cole memo, the federal government effectively opened the door on the potential for prosecution of individuals legally operating state-approved cannabis businesses that comply with the letter of the law. Now, lawmakers in the House of Representatives have attached an addendum to a 2020 federal appropriations bill that will federally enshrine the idea of those protections.
The appropriations bill provides much of the budgeting and funding for the federal government. This rider would pass along with the bill itself, effectively changing federal policy without the need to introduce an independent piece of legislation.
The rider will specifically prohibit the Department of Justice from enforcing federal cannabis laws in states with their own programs. In an inspiring show of support, the rider passed by a margin of 267 to 165. The language prohibits the use of funds for the enforcement of federal cannabis laws in states with medical or recreational programs. If the Senate passes the bill as well or a similar version of it, this law could have a major effect by finally legally accepting the temporary protections extended to states engaging in cannabis reform under the Cole memo.
For previous Ladybud articles about federal cannabis policy, click here.