On Thursday, July 28th, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation that would protect legal state medical marijuana users from the federal government. The amendment, known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, prohibits the Justice Department from spending any money that impedes state implemented medical marijuana laws. The amendment successfully passed the committee on the same day.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations is the largest and most powerful committee in the United States Senate. It has 31 members, is empowered by the U.S. constitution, and has control over all discretionary spending legislation.
The Rohrbacker-Blumenauer amendment protects an individual involved in a state sanctioned medical marijuana activity, from federal prosecution for said activity. With this amendment in place – individuals that legally use, distribute, possess or cultivate medical marijuana within the laws enacted by their state are protected from prosecution by the Justice Department.
Unfortunately, the amendment does little to prevent the DOJ from pursuing prosecutions in the recreational marijuana industry. Eight states (plus D.C.) have legalized recreational marijuana; with 29 states (plus Guam and Puerto Rico) having enacted medical marijuana laws.
Despite opposition by both AG Sessions and President Trump (the president issued a formal objection to the provision this past May), the amendment will in all likelihood be part of the next Omnibus Spending Bill. If passage of the spending bill is delayed past this September, the existing Rohrbacker-Blumenauer amendment prohibiting DOJ interference will be automatically renewed for another year.
The Justice Department pushed back in 2014 and pursued prosecutions against dispensary owners despite the law. The prosecutions were challenged in court and in 2015, U.S. District Judge Breyer sided against the Justice Department actions, stating that the Justice Department’s logic in defying the law was “counterintuitive and opportunistic… defies language and logic…” and “tortures the plain meaning of the statue.”
The Justice Department challenged Judge Breyer’s decision, and in 2016, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals reaffirmed the judge’s ruling – while rejecting the DOJ’s (miss-)interpretation of the Rohrbacker-Blumenauer amendment. The unanimous ruling by the 9th Circuit is considered highly influential across all of the nation’s courts, and legally binding in all nine of the western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) presided over by the Ninth Circuit.
Americans support Legal Medical Marijuana
According the latest Quinnipiac Poll, 93% of Americans support the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The vast majority of voters also agree, by a margin of 71% to 23%, that the government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states where it has been legalized. Complete QU poll results are available here.