The Columbian / Associated Press

Spending plan includes reassurance for legal marijuana

WASHINGTON – Businesses selling marijuana in states where it is legal just got some reassurance from Congress that they don’t have to worry about a federal crackdown anytime soon.

The spending bill that will keep the government open until September includes the extension of a policy that prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal money to interfere with states’ medical marijuana laws.

That prohibition has been in place since 2014, through an amendment to an appropriations bill that has to be re-approved every fiscal year.

“Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore, a longtime champion of marijuana legalization and a co-sponsor of the amendment. “But this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use.”

The future of the multi-billion legal marijuana industry was thrown into question with the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has equated marijuana to heroin. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department declined to interfere with states that had legalized marijuana, even though federal law defines it as an illegal drug.

Sessions has recently signaled that he will let states with legalized marijuana implement their own laws. A total of eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of the drug and 28 states have legalized medical marijuana.