The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to extend protections to states with medical marijuana programs.
Despite a written request from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not do so, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to protect state medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The amendment adds a clause to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) fiscal year 2018 budget.
Twenty-nine U.S. states and the District of California have enacted medical marijuana laws. Since 2014, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment has prevented the Department of Justice from using federal funds to go after these states. The provision has been renewed in every consecutive budget since it first passed. The amendment was again included in the spending budget passed in May, extending protections through September.
Sessions, historically opposed to any policies allowing legal cannabis access, wrote a letter to congressional leaders in May requesting that they undo federal medical marijuana protections. He argued that access to medical cannabis increases drug abuse and crime – two claims that have been proven otherwise.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the amendment despite the letter from Sessions.
“This vote is not only a blow against an outdated Reefer Madness mindset, it is a personal rebuke to Jeff Sessions,” said Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, in a statement. “The attorney general, in contravention of President Trump’s campaign pledges and of public opinion, specifically asked Congress to give him the power to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are following state laws. A bipartisan group of his former Senate colleagues just said no.”
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously ruled that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prohibits federal officials from prosecuting state-legal marijuana operators and patients.
“The federal government can’t investigate everything and shouldn’t, and I don’t want them pursuing medical marijuana patients who are following state law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who offered the amendment.
“We have more important things for the Department of Justice to do than tracking down doctors or epileptics using medical marijuana legally in their state,” Leahy added.
If the full Senate ultimately approves the CJS budget, it will go to a special committee for a compromise in the House.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) told The Hill that he plans to again introduce the amendment to the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill. Rohrabacher believes that the public support for legalizing medical marijuana will overcome any resistance to the amendment being included.
“The number of states that are legalizing at least the medical use of cannabis is overwhelming now. Public opinion has always spoken on this issue,” he said. “I think people will listen to their own constituents rather than Sessions.”
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this year found that 93 percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana, and 71 percent oppose the federal government attempting to crack down on marijuana businesses following state law.
If the CJS budget is not approved by the end of September, the previous medical marijuana protections amendment will automatically be renewed for another year.
Sessions’ attempt to enforce federal law has been met with criticism. Former acting AG Sally Yates harshly rebuked his drug policies in a recent op-ed published in the Washington Post. A group of five plaintiffs recently filed suit against Sessions and the federal government over marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance.