Congress' Christmas Present to the Cannabis Industry

Joel Anderson  |

A week before Christmas, Republicans and Democrats decided to give us all a present by signing into law a $1.8 trillion spending bill that averted a government shutdown and kept the government funded through the end of September next year. I guess we can chalk that one up to the season of good cheer.

Aside from the joy of watching congress actually do the job they were elected to do, this sort of massive omnibus spending bill brings the fun task of parsing over precisely what’s in it, as these sorts of Christmas Tree spending bills frequently include a number of inclusions, amendments, and specific provisions that can get slipped by as long as they’re buried in this sort of massive package.

This year, marijuana companies and users alike got a really nice present. Congress once again reiterated its desire that marijuana be legislated at the state level, reaffirming a commitment to letting things play out locally that should have legalization advocates and cannabis industry players alike jumping with joy.

Notice to the DOJ: Hands Off Our Weed

The piece of the spending bill that’s truly notable for the cannabis industry is the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. This has been a matter of policy for years, but the amendment codifies it by blocking the DOJ (and by extension the DEA) from enforcing federal law in situations where there are contrary state laws.

The Obama administration has never made enforcing the nation’s federal marijuana prohibition a particular point of emphasis, working throughout his years in office to allow those states legalizing medicinal use to continue without serious fear that the DEA would be kicking their doors down.

However, since its passage in 2014, growers and dispensaries operating in states where their activities are legal could be sure that no federal agency would be going out of its way to enforce the national laws, despite state legalization.

Extending the amendment technically provides even more stability and predictability for the cannabis industry, though it’s worth noting that this has been more of a formality at this stage than anything. And that is precisely why advocates and industry players should be happy.

Cannabis Legislation without Outrage? It’s a Christmas Miracle

More than anything else, it’s the relatively routine nature of this move that stands out. The fact that this was a relatively hidden piece of the legislation, failing to garner any particular outrage in the public or congress, is another sign of a growing public acceptance that looks to be the key to finally bringing a nationwide course correction on cannabis.

The sort of staunch conservatives that would have previously been expected to offer up the strongest protests are increasingly beginning to view this issue in a new light. For starters, the issue is beginning to be framed from a states’ rights position, which is likely quieting some of the Republican opposition that might otherwise exist. There’s also growing support for justice reform on the right, reacting to the growing prison population and the sheer cost of keeping people in jail. Taken together, the political spectrum is increasingly aligning in a way that’s nudging cannabis into a neutral position.

The bigger point worth noting is that the opposition to this particular issue is clearly eroding. The stigma that has existed against marijuana in this country is slowly ceasing to be a matter of critical importance to those people who used to be able to rally significant political forces to their cause.

In the past, even a politician who had a clear understanding of just how flawed the national policy was would be unlikely to take a bold stance, knowing that values voters everywhere would put a target on their back. Today? Politicians are ready to simply tack this extension onto an omnibus spending bill. It’s a reality that’s reflected in public polling, which shows that over 80% of the public support legalizing medicinal use and a clear majority in support of total legalization.

If cannabis can simply become a non-issue, something that’s not going to be a rallying cry for politicians trying to scare suburban moms, its eventual descheduling starts to look pretty good. There’s a clear movement of strong advocates - if the ardent opponents simply start to get out of the way, we’ll be looking at a completely different picture for marijuana in the US.

All is Calm, All is Bright for the Cannabis Industry

All of this is to say that the cannabis industry seems to be in a position where it can continue to feel secure. To see an important extension of this sort amendment pass by without significant opposition has to allow the industry to feel stronger about looking to the future and planning ahead, something that can do wonders for improving efficiency.

And with as many as a dozen states prepared to vote on legalization measures this coming November, this is a picture that looks to get far less hazy in the near future.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:



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