The last time Rep. Dana Rohrabacher offered an amendment on the House floor to protect states rights when it came to legalization of medical marijuana, it was defeated 163–262.
Since that vote in 2012, four states — Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maryland — passed laws or regulations allowing for the use of medical marijuana, bringing the total to 21 states and the District of Columbia.
Now, supporters of medical marijuana anticipate the strongest vote yet on a states-rights amendment when the fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations measure (HR 4660) comes to the House floor in a few weeks, while lawmakers are weighing offering additional marijuana provisions on appropriations measures.
Most, but not all, of the proposals lawmakers are considering bringing up are aimed at protecting state laws and programs on medical marijuana use.
The chief provision, which will be offered as an amendment to the appropriations bill funding the Commerce and Justice departments, would prohibit the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana users and providers who are abiding by their state’s law.
The House has voted on similar proposals six times since 2003, with about 150 to 160 members supporting it each time.
But advocates expect that more lawmakers than ever will support the bipartisan proposal this year, which will likely be introduced by two California lawmakers, Rohrabacher, who is a Republican, and Democrat Sam Farr. Boosters expect to win new backers this year because of the increasingly high poll numbers supporting legalization.
“Congress is really good at jumping in front of the parade, and now the parade has been built,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.
In a January CNN poll, 88 percent of respondents said adults should be allowed to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if it is prescribed by a doctor. In October 2013, a Gallup poll showed for the first time that a majority of respondents, 58 percent, supported legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said lawmakers are beginning to get the message that “this is something that most people support, and it’s not going to help you get elected if you stand in the way of marijuana reform.”
That increasing support may lead lawmakers to hold additional marijuana policy votes on other appropriations bills.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., may consider offering an amendment to the Financial Services appropriations measure that would help marijuana businesses get access to banking by updating federal rules, according to his office. An aide for Colorado Democrat Jared Polis said he also may offer marijuana policy amendments, although he has not made a decision yet.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.