The Department of Justice told Congress last year that the proposed attachment of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to a federal spending bill would “limit or possibly eliminate the department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases.” To drive this home, the department issued a list of “informal talking points,” which were “intended to discourage passage” of the measure, according to a document obtained by Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority.
Yet, nearly two months after the provision was passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Obama, a memo released by Patty Merkamp Stemler, chief of the DOJ’s appellate division, admits the talking points do not “reflect our current thinking,” and that the amendment does not offer “any limitations on our ability to investigate and prosecute crimes involving recreational marijuana.”
Although a number of House members voiced concerns last year over the reach of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, claiming that it would cripple the DEA’s ability to enforce federal law, the DOJ memo, which is dated February 27, 2015, suggests that the provision does nothing of the kind. In fact, while lawmakers who supported the measure were under the impression that they were taking the heat off dispensaries and patients in medical marijuana states, it turns out that the full scope of the provision does not offer any protection for the medical marijuana community.
Instead, the memo argues that the DOJ is simply prohibited from spending federal dollars to prevent states from passing medical marijuana laws.
“It prohibits the Department from preventing the implementation of State laws—that is, from impeding the ability of States to carry out their medical marijuana laws, not from taking actions against particular individuals or entities, even if they are acting compliant with State law,” according to the memo.
Of course, there has been some question regarding this matter since April, when Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, told the Los Angeles Times that the amendment to the spending bill only prevents federal authorities from “impeding the ability of states to carry out medical marijuana law.” The statement caused an uproar, forcing Rohrabacher and Farr to pen a nasty letter to former Attorney General Eric Holder, telling him to get his act together.
“The purpose of our amendment was to prevent the Department from wasting its limited law enforcement resources on prosecutions and asset forfeiture actions against medical marijuana patients and providers, including businesses that operate legally under state law,” reads the letter.
After the Justice Department spent months ignoring Rohrabacher and Farr’s request, the congressmen set out to shake things up last week, demanding that the DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz launch an internal investigation into the department’s blatant violation of the law.
“The implementation of state law is carried out by individuals and businesses as the state authorizes them to do so. For the DOJ to argue otherwise is a tortuous twisting of the text… and common sense and the use of federal funds to prevent these individuals and businesses from acting in accordance with state law is clearly in violation of Rohrabacher-Farr,” wrote the congressmen.
Although the Inspector General has indicated that the matter is up for consideration, the DOJ’s memo will likely be reason enough to starve off an investigation.
However, Rohrabacher and Farr maintain that the DOJ is breaking the law by spending federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries and their patients. The congressmen say that the ”memo uses a lot of legal jargon uses a lot of legal jargon to twist the issue but Congress was clear: Stop prosecuting medical marijuana patients and their providers. There was no confusion in Congress when we passed the amendment last year.”