Medical Marijuana Faces Potential Challenge by the Federal Government

During the last week of June 2017, the House Appropriations Committee released its 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, which determines the funding levels for numerous federal agencies, including the Department of Justice. Interestingly, the bill did not include language limiting the Justice Department from taking action against state-sanctioned medical cannabis producers, retailers, or consumers. This language is known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. It is interesting because on or about May 1, 2017, the President signed an extension of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment (the bill’s previous incarnation), extending the protection of medical marijuana use through September 30, 2017. The amendment blocks federal government from spending money on medical marijuana prosecutions, assuming growers and dispensaries follow state rules.

Although the amendment was reauthorized by Congress in May, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been lobbying leadership to ignore the provisions. In a letter to members of Congress on May 1, Sessions demanded the end of Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, citing: “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.” President Trump also issued a signing statement objecting to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, despite signing the extension of the amendment. Despite support for the bill (30 states now permit doctor-authorized use of cannabis by statute and an additional 16 states include statutory protections for the use of Cannabidiol – Cannabidiol, also known as “CBD” is one of at least 113 active cannabinoids identified in cannabis. It is does not appear to have any intoxicating effects such as those caused by THC in marijuana, but may have effects on anxiety and an anti-psychotic effect) the text of this amendment has never been included in the actual text of the CJS Appropriations bill. The amendment has always been added as a separate rider to the legislation which has then been voted on by the House of Representatives and then the Senate.

As a result, on July 27, 2017, the Senate Appropriations Committee will once again debate the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, formerly the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment. (The amendment only applies to medical marijuana and does not have any impact on the federal government’s ability to prosecute individuals for recreational marijuana use. Currently, only four states have authorized recreational marijuana use — California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts). The outcome of the vote could have far-reaching effects given the number of states that have statutorily authorized the use of medical marijuana. Many states have gone to great lengths setting up testing facilities, granting licenses to dispensaries and growers, as well as creating tax plans that utilize revenue obtained the sale of medical marijuana. The vote on July 27, 2017 by the Senate Appropriations Committee could lead to some very interesting complications, especially if Attorney General Sessions ordered the Justice Department to prosecute a dispensary or grower within a state that has statutorily authorized the very practice they would be prosecuted for by the federal government. States and business owners will be anxiously awaiting the outcome of these debates, with the repercussions potentially far wider than anyone expects.

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