Once again, federal protections for medical cannabis faced elimination as Congress was on the verge of a government shutdown over spending. And once again temporary federal funding provisions were extended, and with it, federal medical marijuana protections. Originally known as the Farr-Rohrabacher Amendment, and now known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, the budget rider provision prohibits the Department of Justice from spending funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws.
The budget rider was originally approved and implemented in 2014 and has been renewed in subsequent years. In 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously voted to uphold the budget rider in a case that involved the Department of Justice going after medical marijuana providers. The Departement of Justice unsuccessfully argued that the rider only applied to litigation against states themselves, and not individuals caught by the feds distributing marijuana.
Congress voted last night to approve an extension of federal funding through January 19, which includes the medical marijuana protections. Had Congress not done so, there would have been a federal government shutdown and the protections would have gone away (at least temporarily). As Tom Angell stated in his Marijuana Moment newsletter, ‘It still hasn’t been determined whether the marijuana provision will be included in full Fiscal Year 2018 legislation. President Trump is expected to sign the continuing resolution on Friday, along with separate tax reform legislation.’
Many have feared, and rightfully so in my opinion, that Jeff Sessions would take full advantage of the federal medical marijuana protections lapsing. After all, Sessions sent a letter to members of Congress urging them not to renew the protections. Why would he do that if he wasn’t planning on using it to his advantage? To be fair it could be possible that Sessions just wants the option of going after members of the medical marijuana industry should he want to, and that he doesn’t want to be limited.
Fortunately, we don’t have to find out, at least not through January 19th. It would be nice to see the protections become permanent, rather than having the debate continually punted down the road. Every time the protections are in jeopardy it gives the cannabis community anxiety, which is no way to live when people are medical cannabis patients and/or provide medical cannabis to others. For now, the medical cannabis community can breathe a sigh of relief, but only through January 19th.