Congress Blocks Vital Cannabis Reform Measures (Again)

This year has seen a record number of cannabis reform bills introduced into Congress, but most of these bills have met the same fate: getting shot down by conservative lawmakers in committee meetings.

As chair of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Sessions is able to block pretty much any bill from coming up before the full House for a vote.

This week, Rep. Sessions struck again, tabling two more marijuana-related amendments intended to be added to the Fiscal Year 2019 budget bill. The first of these amendments would have enacted protections for financial institutions willing to serve the cannabis industry. This amendment, which had 22 co-sponsors, would have prevented the feds from prosecuting any banks serving state-legal marijuana businesses, but Rep. Sessions blocked it from passing. In 2014, Washington D.C. voters approved a ballot measure legalizing the possession, but not the sale, of cannabis for adults. This has been prevented by an amendment to each year’s federal budget rider that prevents D.C. from using its own funding to establish such a market.

This year, D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton proposed a measure to reverse this rider, but again it was shut down by Rep. Sessions. On the other side of the fence, there are many Democratic lawmakers who have voted against cannabis reform, as they recently did in the case of the Senate version of the cannabis banking amendment.

In the past two years, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved amendments to protect banks willing to serve the cannabis industry, but Rep. Sessions killed the House versions of these amendments. This year, both the House and the Senate versions of the amendment failed.

“I was disappointed,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, who proposed the amendment. “Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something. In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”

Although the situation in the Senate is not likely to change, the blockade in the House could possibly end this year. Rep. Sessions is facing stiff competition in this fall’s midterm elections, and political analysts have called his district a “Toss up” this year.

“Everyone who knows that Congress has a responsibility to at least debate these issues should unite and help Pete Sessions find another line of work,” Blumenauer said to Marijuana Moment.

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