It looks like medical marijuana patients and the businesses that serve them are safe from the wrath of that pesky U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the next several months. The federal protections known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment have been once again tucked inside the omnibus spending bill. The House of Representatives approved the legislation on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate for approval.
The monstrous $1.3 trillion spending bill, which “no one has read,” according to a Twitter post from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, is intended to keep the federal government running like a well oiled machine (OK, maybe just keep it functional) until the end of September.
Inside its 2,232 pages, the proposal contains the infamous Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which was first put into action in 2014. The language of the rider prevents the Justice Department from spending federal tax dollars to investigate, arrest and prosecute all law-abiding members of statewide medical marijuana programs. It has been the one document on the books that even comes close to keeping the world of medicinal cannabis safe from random raids and shady harassment tactics.
Of course, the idea of a slippery loophole in federal law stopping Sessions and his clan of anti-drug warriors from swooping in and working up an Old Number 6 (Blazing Saddles reference for all of the youngsters) on the folks who grow, sell and use marijuana for medicinal purposes is keeping the attorney general up at night. In fact, the medical marijuana protections are under his skin so much that he sent a letter to Congressional forces last year begging them to jettison their support for the measure.
It is the only way the Justice Department can fully begin to enforce the nation’s drug laws, he said.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly amid an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” the letter reads. “The Department must be able to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
The attorney general has been working overtime to put legal marijuana in a chokehold since he took over as Trump’s leading henchman at the beginning of last year.
In addition to his pleas to get Congress to let him target medical marijuana states, Sessions recently rescinded an Obama-era memo that has allowed states to experiment with taxed and regulated markets.
He also published a couple of memos of his own. One encouraging federal prosecutors to go for the maximum penalty in drug-related cases, and most recently, a directive asking prosecutors to “include the pursuit of capital punishment in appropriate cases.”
But Sessions’ willingness to drive marijuana back in to the underground is not necessarily his fault. He told Congress during his confirmation hearing that he was going to enforce federal marijuana laws.
“If that’s something [that] is not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule,” he said.
Yet Congress has not even considered changing the law at the national level. Instead, federal lawmakers, like Representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Earl Blumenauer, have been forced to lobby for the inclusion of the medical marijuana protections every year. If not, the amendment might fall by the wayside and get passed over from here on out. Both lawmakers have reportedly spent the last several days gathering additional support for the amendment. As of now, 60 federal lawmakers have signed a letter asking Congressional leadership to “include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws.”
They got what they asked for. But it isn’t like Congress is overly enthusiastic about keeping medical marijuana laws in place. No new spending bill has been approved since 2015. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment has sort of just slid by without much of a fuss.
“While I’m glad that our medical marijuana protections are included, there is nothing to celebrate since Congress only maintained the status quo,” Representative Blumenauer said in a statement. “These protections have been law since 2014. This matter should be settled once and for all. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans, across every party, strongly favor the right to use medical marijuana.
It is important to point out that the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment only protects medical marijuana states. As of now, there is no temporary language in place to stop the Trump administration from shutting down states that have legalized for recreational use. There is, however, some discussion circulating around Capitol Hill about putting a separate amendment on the table designed to keep the Feds out of all jurisdictions with legal marijuana. It is too early to tell whether a measure of this magnitude would be taken seriously. Judging from the success of other amendments that have been introduced throughout the year, we are not holding our breath.
In order for the latest spending budget to become law, Senate needs to give its stamp of approval. This is not a sure thing. Senator Paul could jam up the spending bill like he did back in February, bringing the federal government to a brief shutdown. But if it does pass the Senate, the budget will head to the desk of President Trump. It remains uncertain whether the president will sign the budget. Some reports have suggested that a lack of funds appropriated for his border wall might bring everything to a screeching halt. The entire deal must be signed, sealed and delivered by Friday, March 23.
TELL US, should the government establish protections for medical marijuana?