Medical marijuana patients and businesses that remain compliant with their state’swill remain protected from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and federal agents working under him, following a provision included in the new must-pass federal spending bill unveiled on Wednesday.
This policy, which was first implemented under federal law in 2014, prevents the U.S. Department of Justice from utilizing funds to interfere with the operation of state medical marijuana laws, Forbes reports. Its extension was in question because Sessions requested that Congress not continue it, but, luckily, House leaders disagreed with Sessions.
Regardless, the rider, which passed a crucial Senate panel last year, is now included in a bicameral deal to fund federal government operations through the end of Fiscal Year 2018.
The current version reads in part: “SEC. 538. None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States … to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The latest bill, which the House will vote on this week, extends the existing provisions protecting state industrial hemp research programs from federal interference as well.
In a similar move, a bipartisan group of Congress members is increasing efforts to push to maintain medical marijuana protections in Fiscal Year 2019 spending legislation. A letter signed by 62 lawmakers reads, “We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people.”
In January, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo that created a pathway for states to implement their own marijuana laws without worry of federal interference. Following that action, some Congress members opted to go steps further than the existing medical marijuana protections in the spending bill by adding a new provision protecting all state marijuana laws – including states that permit recreational use and businesses — from federal interference.
A separate letter signed by 59 bipartisan Congress members said, “We are concerned about the Department of Justice enforcing federal marijuana law in a way that blocks implementation of marijuana reform laws in those states that have passed such reforms. The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s marijuana policy violates the principles of federalism and the Tenth Amendment. Consistent with those principles, we believe that states ought to retain jurisdiction over most criminal justice matters within their borders. This is how the Founders intended our system to function.”
The current medical marijuana provision was passed by a House floor vote of 219-189 in 2014 and was renewed in 2015 by a vote of 242-186. The Senate Appropriations Committee has also supported the language in multiple bipartisan votes, as recently as the summer of 2017.
The provision has to be readopted annually as it refers to restrictions on a specific years’ Justice Department spending bill.
To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must approve, and President Trump must sign, the appropriations spending bill by midnight on March 23.