The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the U.S. Department of Justice from spending funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, was included in the budget resolution that was released last night.
The amendment renewal extends protections until September, 2017 and also includes language that supports industrial hemp research as well, which is allowed under Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was first passed in 2014, by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who introduced this legislation in 2003, along with colleagues Sam Farr & Maurice Hinchey. Their intention was to prohibit the use of state resources to prosecute legal businesses that were passed on the state level.
During the Obama administration in 2013, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, issued the Cole Memo. His memo stated in part that, outside of the federal government’s top enforcement priorities, they have “traditionally relied on state and local law enforcement agencies to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws.”
Basically, while the federal government would not recognize marijuana as a legal substance, they would also not use federal funds to prosecute low level and singular use violations of a personal nature. The Obama administration took a “hands off” approach to enforcement. The Cole Memo survived through the Obama era.
The Congressional Cannabis Caucus is pushing to have this measure continually extended.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been renewed in each consecutive budget, which is undoubtedly some relief to medical marijuana patients and providers, who have wondered how the Trump administration would approach medical marijuana policy.
There has been a lot of speculation and trepidation regarding the anti-marijuana stance of current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The Rohrabacher-Farr extension is a short-term win, in the current climate.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and Representative of the third district of Oregon, welcomed the extension of critical marijuana policy provisions through September 30 in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus funding legislation.
“Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty,” said Blumenauer. “But this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use.”
Mitchell Kulick, partner at the law firm Feuerstein Kulick LLP, which works with the cannabis industry, said, “We are happy to see common sense prevail and for Congress to continue to respect states’ rights as it relates to medical marijuana. We believe that the extension of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment will allow medical marijuana businesses to continue to serve patients in a responsible manner.”
“Hopefully, this is a sign that Congress will likewise pass other measures that are teed up for its consideration,” Kulick said, that would “resolve some of the challenges and inequities that compliant marijuana businesses face such as limited access to traditional banking and penal tax laws. It is high time that Congress acknowledges the will of the people who overwhelmingly support states’ rights to legalize, appropriately regulate and tax marijuana within their borders.”
David Holland, Esq., of the Law Offices of David Clifford Holland, P.C., is the executive and legal director of Empire State NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws). Holland said, “Extension of the Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment, which permits state medical marijuana programs to continue to operate unhindered by federal intervention, is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates Congress’ recognition that marijuana is legitimate medicine and demonstrates their continued deference to the 28 States and the District of Columbia which have each determined that medical marijuana is a valid form of medical treatment. Secondly, the extension demonstrates that Congress believes that the states have, and continue to be, capable of maintaining well regulated economies to ensure that marijuana is provided in a safe and controlled manner, and without a high risk of abuse.”
Holland continued, “The import of the reasons stated above is that Congress has taken affirmative action to avoid enforcement of marijuana’s Schedule I designation under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits any usage of it on the now abandoned conclusion that marijuana has no medical validity and no regulatory scheme could adequately administer it as medicine while preventing its abuse. This cannabis conundrum is significant because Congress is having a difficult time enforcing its own federal law over the 28 states and the District of Columbia because the rationale for its continued prohibition cannot be seriously contended anymore.”
“Congress still has a long way to go to improve the efficiency of the medical marijuana markets, such as providing greater clarification and direction in the banking industry, but those improvements cannot be far behind now that Congress has stated its preference to allow the proliferation of medical programs in those states that maintain tight control over these flourishing new economies” Holland added.
Jeffrey Zucker, president of the cannabis business strategy firm Green Lion Partners, said, “We are very pleased to see that congress is maintaining the status quo with the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment. 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, and operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn’t for naught and their employees’ jobs are safe.”
“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,” Zucker added.
Derek Peterson, CEO of publicly traded cannabis company Terra Tech, said, “Stopping federal agencies from interrupting voter approved state medical marijuana laws is the first step in ending the prohibition of Cannabis. Without this provision, the industry could potentially be exposed to the risk of federal raids. This gives Congress the breathing room to effect additional changes to how cannabis is handled from a federal standpoint. Voters have spoken clearly all over the country, and we have seen positive economics as well as social benefits from taxing and regulating cannabis.”
Neil Demers, CEO of Diego Pellicer a dispensary in Colorado said, “I’m very happy that congress is including the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in its spending packaging. This will offer protections to the continually developing medical marijuana industry, which is desperately looking for stability in an unstable political climate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer protections to adult-use, recreational cannabis like we were hoping for. Rohrabacher-Farr amendment is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, Attorney General Sessions and the Department of Justice can still interfere with state’s rights, and any states that have implemented, or will be implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of adult-use recreational marijuana.”
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