Medical marijuana businesses across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief on March 23 of this year. The federal government’s omnibus spending bill—totally $1.3 trillion—was passed into law that day. In it was included the highly scrutinized Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment.
The amendment is a critical piece of legislation that protects states’ rights to legalize marijuana in the face of the federal government prohibition. Here’s why it’s so important:
States began legalizing marijuana under the Obama administration. Although the distribution and use of the drug has always been illegal at the federal level, the administration at that time took steps to protect states that created marijuana legislation which contradicted the federal mandate. The federal government passed two important pieces of protective legislation: the Cole Memo and the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment.
The Cole Memo—passed into law in 2013—served as a safeguard for marijuana businesses. In many cases, it prevented federal law enforcement officials from going after marijuana providers that upheld the laws in their state. The memo gave marijuana providers considerable security that the federal government could not interfere with their business.
This amendment was passed into law in 2014 and has been renewed each year since. It states that the Department of Justice may not spend funds for the purpose of preventing any state from implementing medical marijuana laws. This protection may sound limited in scope, but in 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court case United States v. McIntosh put the meaning of this legislation to the test. It ruled that under the amendment, the Department of Justice may not take legal action against medical marijuana providers who are acting legally within their state.
Why is this year different?
The new administration on Capitol Hill has a markedly different attitude toward marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has publicly announced his staunch opposition to marijuana use in any form, for any purpose.
Earlier this year, Sessions rescinded the 2013 Cole Memo. In the weeks leading up to finalization of the spending bill last month, it looked as though the Amendment could also be on the chopping block.
The ultimate inclusion of the Amendment in the bill spells good news for marijuana providers—for now. However, the bill only extends protections through September 30th of this year. The future after that point remains unclear.