Congress has thwarted the Justice Department’s ability to fight medical marijuana legalization at the state level, thanks to a renewed amendment in the federal budget.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, introduced in 2003 and finally passed in 2014, prohibits federal funds being used to “prevent any [states] from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana,” according to the amendment’s text. The amendment has appeared in budget bills ever since.
“Medical cannabis patients in the U.S. can rest easy knowing they won’t have to return to the black market to acquire their medicine,” said Jeffrey Zucker, president of Green Lion Partners. “Operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn’t for naught and their employees’ jobs are safe.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear he believes cannabis is dangerous, meant for bad people, worse than heroin, and whose medicinal properties are over-hyped. Although his beliefs are based on assumptions and false data, leaders in the cannabis industry have been worried about what damage he could inflict upon their businesses.
States that have legalized recreational marijuana may still be concerned, since the amendment only covers medical marijuana efforts. Sessions suggested that he may use his new position to obstruct legalization.
“I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.” he said in briefing.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and all of them could potentially face federal prosecution. But Sessions may have a difficult time financing such an effort against a $6.7 billion industry. A recent Gallup poll revealed 60 percent of American support legalization. This makes any significant move against the legal cannabis industry ill-advised, especially after a presidential pledge to not interfere. Trump’s promise to honor state’s rights played well among conservative voters, who supported his campaign and marijuana legalization in roughly equal measure.
So while Sessions may want to renew the war on marijuana, it is unlikely he would have White House support, nor will he have Congressional support through the federal budget.
Medical marijuana is safe for now, but advocates will perhaps focus their efforts on full-legalization. “While this is great as a continuing step, it’s important for activists and the industry to remain vigilant and getting cannabis federally unscheduled and truly ending the prohibition of this medicinal plant,” said Zucker.