In a series of late-night votes that marijuana-rights advocates say reflect a nation's changing attitudes, the Republican-controlled House moved early Friday to block the federal government from interfering with state laws on pot and hemp.
The most far-reaching of the votes — a measure to cut funds for Drug Enforcement Agency raids on medical marijuana operations — passed 219-189 on the strength of an unusual coalition that cut across traditional partisan lines. The medical marijuana measure was offered by conservative Republican Dana Rohrabacher of California as an amendment to the fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.
Fourteen votes in opposition came from committee chairmen. They were:
Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa of California Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline of Minnesota Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan Wisconsin Ethics Chairman K. Michael Conaway of Texas Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce of California Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas Armed Services Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon of California
The "no" votes from senior Republicans indicate that despite marijuana's increasing embrace by the mainstream, the GOP establishment continues to bristle at the concept. It highlights just how difficult it could be for Congress in the near future to pass any more expansive legislation addressing marijuana legalization, at least as long as Republicans control the House. In fact, consideration of the amendment to the C-J-S appropriations measure was only made possible because the underlying bill was brought to the floor under an open rule, meaning that anybody could force an up-or-down vote on a germane amendment.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., who said recently he would fight the District of Columbia's decriminalization of marijuana, also voted "no," along with fellow Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise, who serves as chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
Republican opposition votes even came from those who hail from Washington and Colorado, which legalized marijuana completely, and from California, which is one of 22 states with a robust medical marijuana program. California Republican Reps. to vote "no" included Paul Cook, Jeff Denham, Doug LaMalfa and David Valadao. Republicans from Colorado to rebuff the amendment were Cory Gardner, who is running for Senate, and Scott Tipton. Dave Reichert from Washington also voted "no."
There were, however, some influential members among the 49 GOP lawmakers who voted "yes," including one member of leadership: Republican National Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon.
Two committee chairman voted in favor of the amendment, too: Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan.
In addition to Hastings and Rohrabacher, naturally, California Republicans Duncan Hunter and Tom McClintock also voted in favor of the amendment. So did Colorado Republican Mike Coffman.
Another notable vote for the provision was Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who is widely considered Scalise's successor to run the RSC in the 114th Congress. His vote could be viewed in the same vein as that of Amash and Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie, two GOP members who have strong libertarian streaks.
Democrats, meanwhile, overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendment — with some exceptions.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida gave the amendment a thumbs-down, as did three committee ranking members: Ways and Means Ranking Member Sander M. Levin of Michigan, Agriculture Ranking Member Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, who serves as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, also voted "no."
A number of members from the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition were also among those who voted "no." They included Reps. John Barrow of Georgia, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Pete Gallego of Texas, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.
Rahall and Peterson are also Blue Dogs.
In addition to the medical marijuana vote, an amendment prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp production laws passed with 237 "yes" votes. An amendment prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp research programs passed with 246 "yes" votes.