In a move that should ease anxiety among those in the cannabis industry, the new federal spending bill includes medical marijuana protections. The move taken Wednesday extends a policy of the federal government that has been in effect since 2014 until September of this year.
Under it, U.S. law enforcement agents and prosecutors are barred from spending federal money to hinder state medical marijuana programs. The rider, as the piece of legislation, is known, also protects medicinal cannabis programs in Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico.
The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment
The policy has previously been known as the Rohrabacher-Farr and Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendments, named for its main supporters in Congress. As part of the annual budget, Congress must reauthorize the amendment each year.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had asked Congress not to further extend the rule. After that, House leaders stopped a vote that would have continued it.
But the Senate was more favorable to the restriction and included it in a bill to fund the government. Both houses of Congress must pass the funding deal and Pres. Trump must sign it before midnight on Friday to avoid a government shutdown.
Last week, 59 members, led by Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and Tom McClintock of California, wrote to House leadership to support the plan, as reported in Forbes.
“We are concerned about the Department of Justice enforcing federal marijuana law in a way that blocks implementation of marijuana reform laws in those states that have passed such reforms,” they wrote.
“The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s marijuana policy violates the principles of federalism and the Tenth Amendment.
Consistent with those principles, we believe that states ought to retain jurisdiction over most criminal justice matters within their borders. This is how the Founders intended our system to function.”
Not All Good News
The spending bill also includes continued protection for state-approved industrial hemp programs.
But other reforms sought by cannabis advocates did not make it into the measure. It continues a provision banning Washington, D.C. from using local funding to legalize and regulate cannabis sales.
The bill also fails to allow Dept. of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their former military patients. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar provision last year.
Final Hit: New Federal Spending Bill Includes Medical Marijuana Protections
Lawmakers are also already looking ahead to extend the medical marijuana protections into the 2019 fiscal year. Last week, 62 members of Congress sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee to ask for the extension.
“We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people,” the letter said.
Some members of the House do not believe that goes far enough because of action by Attorney General Sessions. In January, he rescinded an Obama administration policy directing the Justice Department to permit cannabis businesses operating within state law.
Without the so-called Cole Memo directive in place, some lawmakers would like to see spending prohibitions to apply to recreational cannabis as well as medical marijuana.