ORIGINALLY POSTED JAN. 17, UPDATED MAR. 22: With Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Cole Memo on Jan. 4, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment (RBA) has been the only federal law standing in the way of a potential crackdown on medical marijuana. On Mar. 21, it was extended for another six months.
First passed in 2014, Rohrabacher-Blumenauer (then known as Rohrabacher-Farr) is an amendment to the annual appropriations bill that prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs. It’s the RBA’s third extension since December.
Rep. Blumenauer (D-Ore.) took the extension in stride, stating: “While I’m glad that our medical marijuana protections are included, there is nothing to celebrate since Congress only maintained the status quo. These protections have been law since 2014. This matter should be settled once and fort all.”
Several ongoing legal cases rest on RBA protections. Last August, a federal judge in San Francisco cited in a ruling that two California medical-marijuana growers who’d pleaded guilty to cultivation charges could not be sentenced to prison due to the RBA. On Oct. 18, federal prosecutors in Washington State admitted that it prohibited them from prosecuting a group of medical growers known as the Kettle Falls Five.
However, the McClintock-Polis Amendment Failed to Get Out of Committee
Sessions’ decision to revoke federal protections in the nine legal recreational marijuana states prompted a backlash in Congress. On Jan. 12, a bipartisan group of 69 members sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to include the McClintock-Polis amendment in the appropriations bill as well. Introduced by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), its language is similar the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment’s, but it would also protect legal state recreational cannabis programs.
On Mar. 22, the bill stalled in the House Rules Committee, thanks largely to its far-right chairman Rep. Pete Sessions. The vote was 8-3 opposed. McClintock and Polis have introduced the amendment several times to no avail.
“We’re concerned with several attempts to apply federal law upon commerce related to cannabis that’s conducted entirely within the boundaries of states that have legalized such commerce,” the lawmakers wrote in January. “While the federal government is legitimately empowered to regulate interstate commerce, the measures adopted by states such as California, Oregon and Colorado are aimed solely at intrastate commerce, and as such should not be interfered with.”
After AG Sessions’ announcement, there’s been renewed interest in Congress to tackle the federal-state divide on marijuana laws. Some argue that Sessions’ threat could make federal legalization more likely.
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