Despite the feeble attempts by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to try and persuade Congress to, once again, allow the Department of Justice to prosecute the medical marijuana community. However, it appears that so far, his pleas have fallen on legislators’ deaf ears.
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee put its seal of approval on a temporary rider -- similar to the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment -- that prevents the Justice Department from spending tax dollars to pursue criminal charges against businesses and people involved in the medical marijuana trade. The measure, which was brought to the table by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, is now almost certain to make it into the guts of the larger “Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies” appropriations bill.
“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,” Senator Leahy said during the hearing.
Just two months ago, Sessions fired off a letter to Congressional leaders in hopes of getting them to revoke their support for the House born Rohrabacher-Farr protections.
He wrote that it was “unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions,” because federal enforcers “must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
There was fear that the letter may have held some weight with federal lawmakers, putting medical marijuana at risk of being lumped into to a potential federal crackdown. There was even misguided information spread earlier last month by Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which suggested that the medical marijuana protections had not been renewed for the 2018 Fiscal Year. Yet, federal lawmakers with a dog in the fight came out swinging to discount the claim, saying they had the utmost confidence that medical marijuana would be protected again next year.
The latest move by the Senate committee shows that these lawmakers are on the right track. But the deal is still far from done.
From here, the appropriations bill must go before the full Senate for a vote. In addition, the House must also approve its version of the measure, which could go either way considering its bizarre shift in attitude earlier this week with respect to veterans using medical marijuana. However, if all goes well, the two bills would then be sent to a conference committee, where a comprised proposal would be assembled for the final budget.
National marijuana advocates say that full Congressional support for the Rohrabacher-Farr protections is now more important than ever.
“With the troubling rhetoric coming from Jeff Sessions and his Justice Department, it is more crucial than ever that Congress protects state approved medical marijuana programs and the patients that benefit from them,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement.
“Attorney General Sessions thinks that medical marijuana patients are no better than members of illegal drug cartels, it is imperative that our elected officials remove any potential bite from Sessions’ bark by taking away his ability to use the full force of the federal government to go against the will of over 90% of American citizens who support medical marijuana access and, in the process, endangering the well-being of millions of medical marijuana patients."