Can Sessions Really Interfere with Medical Cannabis?
June 13th, 2017
After months of speculation, the cannabis industry’s worst fears might be on the cusp of becoming a reality. Yesterday’s bombshell from Tom Angell should serve as a wake-up call; AG Sessions appears to have medical cannabis in his cross hairs and we have until September to change his mind.
Why September? The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment is set to expire and, without renewal, would open the door for the Department of Justice to use government funds to interfere with state legal medical cannabis programs. The amendment, now known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, is part of an omnibus spending bill that declares, “None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States…(goes on to list all medical states)…to prevent such states from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Put simply, Rohrabacher-Farr prevents federal intervention specific to medical cannabis programs. The amendment is a complement to the Cole Memo, a letter from Obama’s Deputy AG James M Cole that provides a series of requirements intended to eliminate diversion while increasing accountability and transparency in states that approved cannabis, making federal intervention not only unnecessary, but inappropriate. Under the guidance and protections provided under the Cole Memo and Rohrabacher-Farr, the cannabis industry has been able to evolve on the state level with local influence outweighing federal. Over the last few months, we’ve heard rumblings of a federal crackdown on state’s cannabis industries, however, they have so far been unable to affect change, primarily thanks to the protection of the two aforementioned documents. But that could change. In a recently released letter, Sessions has asked members of Congress to not support the renewal. Sessions stated, “It would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
Certainly, this is cause for concern. Though the states have expressed their displeasure with some of Sessions’ recent directives, the vast majority now overwhelmingly supporting medical cannabis 9-1 and are willing to stand up for their state’s rights.
If the amendment is allowed to fail, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would have every legal right to pursue legal, licensed cannabis businesses. Not only would hundreds of business owners face decades of legal ramifications, thousands of patients could be without medicine and subject to criminal prosecution themselves.
The President has endorsed medical cannabis, on more than a few occasions; his initiatives on job creation, improving Veteran care, and combating the opioid epidemic are actually what the cannabis industry is already doing! It seems odd that Sessions has been so aggressive out of the gate considering President Donald Trump’s apparent support of medical cannabis. So with such significant uncertainty looming for businesses and a multi-billion dollar industry that has now reached over 30 states, what can we, as an industry, do to help?
Basically, the industry needs to make some noise. We need to contact our leaders in government and share our experiences. We need to remind them we are here, and that we aren’t going anywhere without a fight. The last time Rohrabacher-Farr saw a vote was 2015 where it was passed 242-186 in the House. Since then, cannabis has experienced widespread acceptance, but there is no room for complacency. Everything that our industry has worked so hard to build could all be for nothing if we fail to react accordingly. So please take a few minutes and make sure our leaders know where we stand!
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