This past Friday, President Obama signed a massive tax and spending bill into law. Included among the bill's 2,009 pages is a provision that will be welcomed by medical marijuana patients and providers around the country – an amendment preventing the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with states that have enacted medical marijuana laws.
The amendment, authored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-CA, and Sam Farr, D-CA, extends the protection offered by a similar provision in last year’s budget bill. Namely, it provides that the DOJ – which includes the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – is prohibited from spending federal funds to interfere with states implementing medical marijuana programs. This provision is intended to prevent the DOJ from raiding or otherwise prosecuting patients, caregivers, dispensaries, physicians, and others acting in accordance with state law. The text of the amendment follows:
None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, or with respect to either the District of Columbia or Guam, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. (Emphasis added).
The DOJ hasn’t always honored the intent of the law, however. As discussed in a previous blog post, a leaked February 2015 DOJ memo revealed that the DEA interpreted the 2015 amendment’s language not as preventing federal prosecution of individuals and businesses who implement medical marijuana laws, but rather as merely preventing the DEA from interfering with the operations of "states" themselves. This interpretation would offer the patients, caregivers, and others implementing state medical marijuana programs no protection.
Fortunately for the many who benefit from medical marijuana programs, in October a California federal court upheld the clear intent of the law and delivered a scathing rebuke to the DEA for attempting to circumvent it. This legal victory is likely to send a message to the DEA that efforts to evade the intent of the 2016 Rorbacher-Farr amendment – like last year’s provision – will not be successful going forward.
The return of the amendment in this year’s spending bill should help medical marijuana patients and providers in Maine and around the country rest easier in 2016, and is yet another sign of the rising tide of popular support for medical marijuana nationwide.