New Federal Spending Bill Maintains Prohibition on DOJ Interference in State Medical Marijuana Laws
The appropriations bill unveiled late Tuesday in Congress includes the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which is intended to prevent the DOJ and DEA from arresting or prosecuting patients, caregivers, and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws; the spending plan also renews the Harris Amendment, which prevents the District of Columbia from regulating marijuana for adult use
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Justice Department will continue to be prohibited from interfering in state medical marijuana laws under the new federal spending bill unveiled late Tuesday night.
The compromise legislation includes a provision that is intended to prevent the department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to arrest or prosecute patients, caregivers, and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It stems from an amendment sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) that was first approved in the House of Representatives in May 2014 and included in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 signed by President Obama last December.
“The renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment suggests most members of Congress are ready to end the federal government’s war on medical marijuana,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “There’s a growing sentiment that the Justice Department should not be using taxpayer dollars to arrest and prosecute people who are following their states’ medical marijuana laws.”
In April 2015, a Justice Department spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the department did not interpret the amendment as affecting cases involving individuals or businesses, but merely “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.” In October, a federal judge ruled that interpretation was inaccurate and that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prevents the department from taking action against individuals who are acting in compliance with state laws.
“This amendment has teeth, but only as long as it keeps getting renewed,” Capecchi said. “It’s time for Congress to adopt a more permanent solution. The CARERS Act is one option, but Sen. Grassley is not allowing it to get a committee hearing. Unfortunately, some members are still clinging to antiquated prohibition policies.”
The new spending plan also includes an amendment, introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) and approved earlier this year, which prevents the District of Columbia from regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for adult use. District voters approved a ballot initiative in 2014 to make possession and growing of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older.
“Marijuana is now legal for adults in the District of Columbia, and it needs to be treated like a legal product,” Capecchi said. “It is irrational to prohibit D.C. officials from establishing a regulatory system to control the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. By renewing the Harris Amendment, Congress is posing a real threat to public health and safety in our nation’s capital.”