It was a mixed bag last week for marijuana advocates. Nationally, the cannabis industry breathed a collective sigh of relief after Congress included a favorable amendment in the omnibus spending bill. In Connecticut, recreational marijuana suffered a defeat in a committee vote. And in Illinois, voters overwhelmingly voted for a non-binding referendum in support of legalization. Find out about that more in our weekly marijuana legislative roundup.
On Thursday, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill extending a provision protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal law enforcement for another year. The amendment, known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer (formerly Rohrabacher-Farr) Amendment, prohibits the use of federal funds to prevent states from “implementing their own State laws to authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” The amendment has been included in every federal spending bill since 2014. In a letter to lawmakers early last summer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had urged Congress not to extend the protections again.
A separate amendment sponsored by Colorado lawmakers to protect recreational marijuana from federal law enforcement failed to make it into the final version of the budget bill signed into law early Friday morning. The measure was modeled after the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment and would have essentially extended the protected state-legal marijuana activities to include recreational cannabis. The push for such a measure has taken on added urgency following the rescission of the Cole Memorandum by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January.
On Tuesday, the General Law Committee of the Connecticut legislature voted down a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older in the state. The Committee was charged with reviewing certain aspects of legalization, particularly the provisions governing home cultivation. It is one of four committees currently reviewing cannabis legalization, so the bill is not yet dead. Lawmakers are hoping to pass legalization this session because recreational cannabis sales are set to begin in neighboring Massachusetts this summer. Possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in Connecticut.
On Tuesday, voters in Cook County, Illinois voted in favor of marijuana legalization in an advisory referendum called by local officials last year. Cook County is the state’s most populous county and includes Chicago. Nonbinding referendums are often used to gauge public support on contentious political issues before taking legislative action, so the vote could provide new momentum to efforts to legalize the plant in Illinois.