Congressional Update: Senate Nixes House Plan; Georgia Seeks Legalization

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Momentum for several changes to federal cannabis law has stalled in the U.S. Senate. In June, the House included in an appropriations bill a measure that would protect all cannabis programs enacted by state and indigenous tribes from federal interference. The Senate has decided to drop the provision. Instead, medicinal cannabis protections in place since 2014 will remain.

Other House approved actions also were nixed by the Senate including changes to federal drug testing regulations for employment, and the elimination of bureaucratic barriers preventing Washington D.C. from moving forward with its recreational cannabis program. Voters in the District of Columbia approved recreational cannabis in November 2014 but have yet to see the market take shape. 

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With cannabis currently enjoying higher approval ratings than just about anyone in Congress, some are surprised U.S. lawmakers still are focused on maintaining antiquated drug policies.

“At a time when a record number of Americans support ending our failed prohibition on marijuana, it is incredibly disappointing to see that Congress continues to ignore the will of their constituents on this important issue,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a release. “Supporters of legalization are engaged voters and we shouldn’t be treated as a bargaining chip in spending negotiations when justice and liberty are at stake.”

Although cannabis reform advocates have expressed disappointment about the Senate’s decision, lawmakers in Georgia may be able to offer a consolation prize. The Georgia House has filed a resolution urging the federal government to legalize cannabis. While most states focus on cannabis programs within their own borders, HR876 does not focus on legalization in Georgia specifically. Rather, the bill seeks to eliminate federal prohibition by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

Georgia may not have the greatest chance of convincing federal authorities to end cannabis prohibition, but it may be signaling that states are ready to become more aggressive in pressuring Congress and the Trump Administration to pursue meaningful reform.

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