Right now there is a federal law that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. Obama never issued a signing statement concerning the provision, but he did suggest that Congress delete it in his last two budget requests. And the Obama Justice Department took the position that the budget rider only prevented the government from stopping states from implementing their laws and did not provide any protections to patients or providers who were acting in accordance with those policies.
But last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled, over the Justice Department’s objection, that the measure does in fact prevent federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against state-legal medical cannabis patients, growers and dispensaries. And now, the current administration wants it changed.
In its second term the Obama administration took a largely hands-off policy with respect to state marijuana laws, despite its position on the budget rider. In a 2013 document that became known as the “Cole Memo,” the Justice Department laid out guidelines for how states can avoid federal interference with their marijuana laws.
And luckily, President Trump repeatedly pledged during the campaign that he would respect state marijuana laws if elected, and said that he supports medical cannabis “100 percent,” going so far as to note that he personally knows people who have benefited from it. Thankfully, the Cole Memo is still in place, for now.
But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Congressional leaders NOT to renew the current federal law that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws:
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership. “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 letter, sent to Capitol Hill last month, was shared by a Congressional staffer.
The protections are the result of a rider — known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, after its lead Congressional sponsors — which has been enacted into law with strong bipartisan votes for the past three fiscal years, including the current one.
And (unsurprisingly) when President Trump signed a Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill into law last month, he issued a signing statement that essentially reserved the right to ignore the medical marijuana protections.
“I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he wrote.
Here’s hoping no further damage comes from the government to interfere with state legalization laws.