The $1.1 trillion spending budget recently agreed upon by Congress doesn’t include any money for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go after states that have legalized marijuana.
Despite U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously alluding to a federal crackdown on states with marijuana laws, the newly unveiled bipartisan budget bill from Congress gives him zero money to do so. The $1.1 trillion spending bill extends the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, first passed in 2014, which prevents federal interference in states passing or implementing medical marijuana policies.
The full text of the marijuana provision reads:
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Sessions, who has made it clear that he’s not a supporter of the legal cannabis industry, caused considerable uncertainty among advocates and operators over whether he would go after states with marijuana laws. He’s said in the past that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and at one point argued that marijuana is only “slightly less awful” than heroin and opioids, despite marijuana never having caused a single fatal overdose. In February, he said, “States, they can pass the laws they choose. 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.”
While cannabis continues to be federally classified as a Schedule I substance, 29 U.S. states have passed laws to establish comprehensive medical marijuana programs, and 16 more have adopted limited access medicinal marijuana laws.
With the passing of the spending budget, any concerns over a potential crackdown from medical marijuana supporters have been greatly alleviated. Even if Sessions wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to enforce any federal laws in any of the states or territories listed in the provision. The bill funds federal spending through September.
“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 the Denver-based cannabis business strategy firm Green Lion Partners. “Operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn’t for naught and their employees’ jobs are safe.”
Plus, the protections in the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment do not extend protections to the adult-use marijuana side of the industry. Eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.
A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found that at least 73 percent of Americans oppose the federal government from interfering with states with legalized medical or recreational marijuana.
“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 sending the prohibition of this medicinal plant,” Zucker added.