Congress recently averted a government shutdown by passing a short-term spending bill. This bill contains an amendment that protects medical marijuana states from prosecution by the federal government.
Just in time to prevent an October 1st government shutdown, the United States Congress approved a short-term spending bill. The stopgap spending bill, which funds the government through December 9, contains the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Cannabis Amendment, a landmark amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with individuals who are acting in accordance with their state medical cannabis laws.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), cannabis is categorized as a Schedule I substance, and it is therefore illegal to possess, cultivate, or distribute cannabis. States that pass legislation to allow marijuana for medical use or to legalize recreational use are doing so in defiance of federal law.
Under the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, however, federal money cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” It is intended to prevent medical cannabis raids, arrests, criminal prosecutions, and civil asset forfeiture lawsuits. The protection extends to the medical marijuana patients and businesses within the states that have passed medical marijuana legislation.
The amendment, sponsored by House members Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), was initially approved in December 2014. It originally passed the House with a vote of 242-186 and the Senate Appropriations Committee with a vote of 21-9. It must be renewed every year.
“We should respect the rights of the states who are going through this process,” Sen. Mikulski said earlier this year. “The DEA has enough to do keeping illegal drugs out of our country at the border, rather than interfering where a state has determined through an open process that it wants to do these sales.”
Despite the legislation, the DEA did originally continue to go after medical marijuana dispensaries in states with medicinal cannabis laws, claiming that the law only prevented the Justice Department from actions against states, not businesses or individuals. However, in October 2015, Judge Breyer from San Francisco’s federal court clarified the amendment’s protection when he ruled that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment does prevent the DEA from shutting down or bringing legal action against dispensaries.
In the United States, more than 40 states and Washington D.C. have passed some type of medical cannabis legislation since 1996. Twenty-five states have established comprehensive medical marijuana programs. Four additional states will decide on medicinal cannabis initiatives this coming election.
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARERS), a bipartisan and comprehensive piece of federal medical marijuana legislation that would remedy the state-federal conflict regarding medical marijuana, currently remains stalled in the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee. The bill, which has until December 31, 2016 to be passed by Congress, would reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance, thereby making it federally legal to use medicinally.
For now, the passing of the temporary spending bill keeps the government and the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment funded through the second week of December, but the Obama administration has urged lawmakers to take immediate action upon returning from the election to enact a more long-term solution.