Opposition to Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment Puts Medical Marijuana Industry at Risk

October 13, 2017
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The Medical Marijuana Industry is Closely Monitoring Congress’ Budget Bills to Determine the Fate of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment

The medical marijuana industry is closely monitoring Congress’ budget bills to determine the fate of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. The provision, which dates back to 2014, prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from using federal funds to interfere with state laws legalizing medical marijuana.

Opposition to Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment Puts Medical Marijuana Industry At Risk

Photo courtesy of Alexandre Chambon (Unsplash.com)

History of Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment

The amendment was first introduced by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) and Sam Farr (D-California) as part of a 2014 omnibus spending bill. It states:

None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

Courts have relied on the amendment to prohibit the federal government from enforcing the Controlled Substances Act so long as entities and individuals comply with state medical marijuana laws. In U.S. v. Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California stated:

The CSA remains in place, and this Court intends to enforce it to the full extent that Congress has allowed in Section 538, that is, with regard to any medical marijuana not in full compliance with “State law [ ] that authorize[s] the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Further Extensions of Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which notably only applies to medical marijuana, must be renewed each fiscal year in order to remain in effect. While the extension of the amendment was largely a non-issue over the past several years, the Trump Administration’s hostility to marijuana legalization has put further extensions in jeopardy.

On May 5, 2017, President Trump signed a short-term budget bill extending the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment until September 30, 2017. It also extended its protections to additional states that have passed legalized medical cannabis programs. While this is all good news, the President also issued a “signing statement” commenting on the amendment. It stated:

Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

While the intent of President Trump’s signing statement is unclear, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressly wrote to Congress, advocating that the amendment not be extended. His letter stated:

I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.

The House of Representatives has also put up roadblocks. In early September, Republican leaders blocked a vote on the amendment, now known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer after co-sponsors Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “By blocking our amendment, Committee leadership is putting at risk the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana for treatment, as well as the clinics and businesses that support them,” Rohrabacher and Blumenauer said in a joint statement about the House Rules Committee’s decision.

In a victory for the cannabis industry, Congress ultimately passed a budget bill that extends the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment through December 8, 2017. However, the uncertainty caused by Republican House Leaders and Attorney General Sessions suggests that a long-term legislative solution is needed.

This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.

Disclaimer: Possession, use, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis is a Federal crime and is subject to related Federal policy. Legal advice provided by Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC is designed to counsel clients regarding the validity, scope, meaning, and application of existing and/or proposed cannabis law. Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC will not provide assistance in circumventing Federal or state cannabis law or policy, and advice provided by our office should not be construed as such.