The federal medical marijuana protections have just been extended but not for long.
Congress just extended the federal medical marijuana protections known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, or the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. It happened early Friday morning when President Donald Trump signed a huge budget deal that brought a short federal shutdown to an end. But these temporary protections still face some uncertainty in the coming months. The latest spending plan only runs until the end of March. At that time, the medical marijuana community could become more volatile at the hands of the Department of Justice.
The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment Keeps Going
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents Attorney General Sessions from spending tax dollars to prosecute medical marijuana businesses and patients, has been a part of the federal budget for the past few years. In fact, this is the eighth time the rider has been renewed since 2015.
This temporary rider is the only document on the books that protects medical marijuana states. Without it, the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would have free rein to investigate, raid and prosecute all connections to statewide medical marijuana programs.
Congress Riding Same Budget Since 2015
This does not mean Congress has been giving medical marijuana serious consideration during budget talks. It has not. Since Rohrabacher-Farr has been a part of the federal budget for the past three years, it has been gliding on the coattails of the renewal process. Basically, since Congress has not approved a new budget since 2015, the federal medical marijuana protections keep living.
Similar riders have been proposed in the past, but none have ever been given the time of day.
Sessions Pressures Congress to Eliminate Federal Medical Marijuana Protections
It is distinctly possible that the medical marijuana debate will come to a head next month. The current protections are only good until March 23. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment must find its way inside a much larger budget to maintain. If it will survive the next round of negotiations is anyone’s guess. The protections are at risk for elimination. Attorney General Sessions has been pressuring both the House and Senate to ensure this happens.
It was just last year that Sessions sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to abandon support for Rohrabacher-Farr.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and a potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote last June. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
Congressional leadership will need to approve the language for inclusion in the new appropriations for the rider to stay intact. Although the Senate has shown some support, the House of Representative has been less than enthusiastic. As NORML political director Justin Strekal pointed out in his analysis, “The provision will now be considered by House and Senate leadership when the two chambers’ appropriations bills are reconciled, should Congress ever set a FY18 budget, of which is already over a third of the way behind us.”