Colorado lawmakers don't get recreational pot protections in omnibus, but push on for fix

DENVER – Several of Colorado’s members of Congress say they will continue to work toward passing protections for recreational marijuana programs after the protections they’d sought weren’t included in the omnibus spending bill, though similar protections for medical marijuana were included.

Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) joined Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D) and Jared Polis (D) in saying they were disappointed that an amendment Polis had offered wasn’t included in the final measure.

The provision would have prohibited the Justice Department from spending money to crack down on recreational marijuana in states where it is legal. But the omnibus bill did include similar protections for states with medical marijuana programs.

Polis offered up the amendment, as he did during the last short-term budget fix, Tuesday evening, but it was rejected.

All of Colorado’s members of Congress except Doug Lamborn have been seeking ways to stop the Justice Department from enforcing some federal laws against marijuana in states like Colorado since Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo in early January. The 2013 Justice Department memo protected states where recreational pot was legal from extraneous law enforcement.

After Gardner dropped some of the holds he had placed on Justice Department nominees in early February, he and Bennet sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking that protections for recreational marijuana be included in upcoming appropriations measures.

The House passed the omnibus bill Thursday afternoon in a 256-167 vote. Perlmutter approved the measure, along with Republicans Scott Tipton and Lamborn.

But Polis and fellow Democrat Diana DeGette joined Colorado’s other Republicans – Mike Coffman and Ken Buck – in voting against the measure.

The Senate was expected to vote on the bill late Thursday or Friday.

But all four lawmakers Denver7 spoke with said that while they were disappointed the recreational protections weren’t included, they were glad medical marijuana was still protected and said they were continuing to work to find legislative solutions to fix Sessions’ decision.

“I offered an amendment that would have prohibited the feds from using taxpayer dollars to go after states that have legalized recreational marijuana – and I’ll keep running that amendment at every opportunity,” Polis told Denver7. “When it comes to marijuana – we need to get out of the way of states, like Colorado, that have very loudly and clearly chosen to legalize in a responsible way. Coloradans shouldn’t have to finance President Trump’s attacks on our own state.”

“Given the uncertainty facing the marijuana industry in Colorado and across the country, securing protections for the financial industry as well as the recreational marijuana industry would have provided some relief for these legitimate businesses,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “I will continue to work with my colleagues to pass legislation to align state and federal law as it pertains to the marijuana industry.”

A Bennet aide said the senator was disappointed but would continue the Colorado lawmakers’ work. And Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, said “positive” conversations with the Justice Department were ongoing regarding recreational pot and that the senator was pleased medical protections were kept in the bill.

“[Gardner] had hoped to see legislative language regarding the Cole memo included in the spending measure being considered this week in Congress, but continues to work on other legislative options to protect Colorado rights,” Contres told Denver7.

The Senate still has to pass the measure, but the White House has said it would sign the omnibus bill should it reach the president’s desk. The ongoing work by Colorado lawmakers come amid new concerns after Sessions sent a new memo last week urging federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for people convicted of large-scale drug trafficking.

Sessions did say that the Justice Department wouldn't prosecute "small" and "routine" marijuana cases.

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