Although Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made a number of threats to crack down on states that have legalized cannabis, his hands have been tied by an amendment to a federal budget bill, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, that prevents the Justice Department from spending money to prosecute cannabis-related activities that are legal under state laws. Sessions and some of his allies in the Republican party have worked to block the amendment from being renewed next year however, leaving the future of legal cannabis uncertain.
This week, a bipartisan group of 66 U.S. Representatives wrote a letter to Congressional leaders asking for support in renewing the amendment for 2018. "The provision, which first became law in December 2014, has successfully protected patients, providers, and businesses against federal prosecution, so long as they act within the confines of their state's medical marijuana laws," the letter reads. "These protections extend to 46 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, all of which allow some form of medical marijuana that is strictly prohibited by the federal government—from CBD oils to the full plant."
Congress has successfully passed a version of this amendment every year since 2014, but the amendment has faced several challenges in 2017. This spring, Sessions wrote a letter to Congress to drum up support in opposition of passing the amendment. In September, the House Rules Committee ruled the proposal of the amendment "out of order," blocking it from moving to the House for a full vote. Fortunately, pro-cannabis legislators were able to extend these protections by adding an amendment to a disaster relief bill, but this extension expires on December 8th.
Although Sessions and some of the Congressional GOP leadership are fighting against legal cannabis, there are a number of Republican legislators who support state-level legalization, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, one of the lead sponsors and namesakes of the amendment. "This provision clearly has broad, bipartisan support — and Americans overwhelmingly agree," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), another lead sponsor of the amendment, told Marijuana Moment. "Congress should continue to protect the millions of patients across America who rely on medical marijuana for treatment. It shouldn't even be a question."
Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions told reporters at a recent press conference that the DoJ is "currently working very hard" to implement changes to the government's cannabis enforcement policy. "We had meetings yesterday and talked about it at some length. It's my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental and we should not give encouragement in any way to it. And it represents a federal violation which is in the law and is subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges that we face."
The exact implications of Sessions' statements are currently unknown, but the successful passage of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment for next year would help limit the damage that the federal government could do to the medical cannabis industry.