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Persistent Protection

Despite oncerns of vanishing congressional protections, medical marijuana comes out ahead—for now

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In the scramble for Congress to pull together a spending bill for the 2018 fiscal year, medical marijuana emerged as a precarious winner in the final passing of the bill on March 23.

Through much uncertainty since the bill's original deadline at the end of last September, the rider that has protected medical marijuana since 2014 will continue to protect patients and businesses from federal prosecution.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, named for representatives from California and Oregon, prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to pursue convictions for marijuana patients and businesses operating legally under state law.

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions has escalated the rhetoric surrounding marijuana at the national level, the continuing protections come as a much-needed reprieve for the industry.

Concerns began to mount as the Republican caucus held off on adding the rider to the initial budget bill in early September, sounding the alarms for congressional proponents of medical marijuana on both sides of the aisle.

But, through months of negotiation mostly concerning immigration, border security and military spending, marijuana's allies in Congress were able to secure the protections through next September, when they'll have to defend the rider once again.

Amidst the turmoil of nailing down the nation's budget plan, Sessions announced a retraction of an Obama-era DOJ policy recommending a hands-off approach to the burgeoning medical marijuana industry.

While the move, on paper, might have made your stomach turn, the U.S. attorneys upon which the burden now falls

were reluctant to admit the policy retraction changed much of anything. Many of the U.S. attorneys in legal states said they already keep an eye out for indiscretions in the marijuana industry.

The new development in Congress now stands as the best legal protection against a sudden directive to shut down the marijuana industry. Such a mandate is unlikely given Sessions' preoccupation with the Trump Administration's Russia scandal and swirling rumors that he may be coming down the line on Trump's chopping block.

However, not all are safe from a potential strike at the industry. The amendment does nothing to protect recreational marijuana businesses and users who are still at the mercy of Sessions and the U.S. attorneys.

Efforts by Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner went unrealized as they and 16 other senators, as well as supporters in the House, tried to add recreational marijuana to the rider under the defense of states' rights.

But in the depths of bipartisan negotiations to reach a compromise on the budget (halfway through the fiscal year) recreational marijuana protections simply couldn't make the cut. Two letters were sent to congressional leaders this year signed by at least 59 members of Congress in support of including recreational marijuana in the bill's protections.

Lawmakers may have more luck in six months, when another budget bill must to be decided, as the bipartisan group of proponents has already begun petitioning committee chairs to include recreational marijuana in the next bill.

With little movement on the anti-marijuana front, the needle seems to be tipping in favor of future legalization.

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