Congress voted yesterday to extend protections for state medical marijuana programs through January 19, 2018. The mechanism for this protection is a provision preventing federal funds from being used to interfere with state medical marijuana programs. The provision, commonly known as the “Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment” (Amendment), was part of the stopgap appropriations legislation Congress passed in order to fund the federal government for the next month.
First signed into law by President Obama on December 16, 2014, the Amendment has been a very useful tool for protecting marijuana patients, medical providers, and suppliers. It was instrumental in two favorable cases, U.S. v. Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), Case No. 98-00086 (Marin Alliance) and U.S. v. McIntosh, Case No. 15-10122 (2016) (McIntosh). In the Marin Alliance opinion, the US District Court for the Northern District of CA found that a prior injunction prohibiting a California medical marijuana dispensary from operating was unenforceable except to the extent that the dispensary was not compliant with state law, even though the dispensary’s acts were in direct violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Court based its ruling on 2015 version of the Amendment which prohibited the Justice Department (DOJ) from expending any funds in connection with enforcement of any law that interfered with California’s ability to implement its own state laws authorizing the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. Similarly, in the McIntosh opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that the 2016 version of the Amendment prohibited the DOJ from spending funds from a for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by state medical marijuana laws and who are fully compliant with such laws.
The Amendment has been vital in supporting state medical marijuana programs. However, it is an imperfect fix. As I discuss in this blog post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has formally and pointedly asked Congress not to renew the Amendment. And, as I have previously stated, “Governing national policy on an issue that affects millions of people in over half of the states by the use of a funding clause is no way to run a country. If Congress truly believes that medical cannabis patients should have unmolested access to the medicine they need then it should pass laws reforming our policy on cannabis. It can start by changing the CSA to remove, or at least reschedule, cannabis so that law abiding citizens don’t have to worry about federal prosecution (or asset forfeiture, or closed bank accounts, or being raided, or simply losing access to quality medicine, or any number of other things) for their use of a plant.”
Here is Representative Blumenauer’s official press release regarding the Amendment:
United States House of Representatives
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 22, 2017
Congress Extends Critical Medical Marijuana Protections Through January 19
Washington, D.C. – Congress voted to extend protections for state medical marijuana programs through January 19. The provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, was continued in legislation to fund the government for a month.
Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and champion of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, released the following statement:
“Patients around the country who rely on medical marijuana for treatment—and the businesses that serve them—now have some measure of certainty. Our fight, however, continues to maintain these important protections in the next funding bill passed by Congress.”