Congress Renews Federal Marijuana Protections—But Only Through April

Congressional lawmakers have given the medical marijuana industry a few more months of protection, putting their seal of approval on an amendment tucked inside a spending bill intended to prevent the Justice Department from using federal tax dollars to shakedown the cannabis community.

Earlier last week, Congress managed to come to terms on a short-term funding bill in an effort to keep the pulse of the federal government beating for a few more months. In doing this, the infamous Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was renewed, essentially making it illegal for the DEA to go after law-abiding members of medicinal cannabis trade.

However, the temporary nature of this budget bill (House Resolution 2028) will only provide a defense until April 28, 2017—a factor that creates even more uncertainly with respect to how the federal government will affect the legalization movement.

Congress first enacted the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in 2014, an event that spawned a legion of misleading headlines across the internet that led people to believe that marijuana was now legal in all 50 states. But while the amendment did not change anything in respect to federal law, nor did it make any adjustments to the Controlled Substances Act, it was designed to simply keep the DEA from kicking down the doors of businesses and patients by removing the money they needed to perform these activities.

However, by April of 2015, the Justice Department came forward with some twisted interpretation of the amendment that suggested it did nothing more than keep medical marijuana states safe from the wrath of federal drug enforcers.

It was not until August of this year that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a verdict calling for the Justice Department to adhere to the language of the of amendment.

The court said if the federal government could not prove state laws had been broken, there was no a legal basis for continuing prosecutions.

“If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law, by which we mean that they strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by state law on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana,” Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote for the panel.

Unfortunately, while the ruling was and still is considered one of the biggest marijuana victories of 2016, the rub is that the Justice Department would be well within its legal right to start prosecuting the medical marijuana community once again as soon as Congress fails to renew the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment—something that could likely happen in April.

It has been reported that House Republicans have made it their mission next year to block all marijuana-related proposals. This is mostly due to a number of other controversial issues being battled out in the halls of Congress, causing federal gatekeepers to turn their backs on any measure that may prevent the final bill from achieving passage.

“Until now, it was not known that there is in effect a blanket ban on measures concerning cannabis policy,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, wrote in a recent blog post.

Furthermore, there remains a great deal of uncertainty regarding the path the Trump administration will take when it comes to handling state marijuana laws.

Although there does not seem to be much hope in watching the recreational side of the industry acquire protections next year to keep it safe from U.S. Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, it is going to be absolutely crucial in April for Congress to keep the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in place.

Otherwise, the entire scope of the marijuana legalization movement runs the risk of being set back by decades.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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