Will the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment Survive?

Rohrabacher

Reps. Rohrabacher (right) and Blumenauer in 2014. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers Fight for Federal Marijuana Protections

With Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Cole Memo on Jan. 4, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is the only federal law standing in the way of a potential crackdown on medical marijuana.

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 crack down on medical marijuana programs in the 29 states where it’s legal. In December, President Trump signed a stopgap funding bill that would extend these protections until Jan. 19.

For example, last August, a federal judge in San Francisco cited the amendment 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 amendment. And 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.

Reps. McClintock and Polis Re-Introduce Their Amendment

Sessions’ decision to revoke federal protections in the eight legal recreational marijuana states has 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.

“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. “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.”

McClintock and Polis have introduced the amendment several times in the past to no avail. But after Sessions’ announcement, there’s been renewed interest in Congress tackling the federal-state divide on marijuana laws. Some argue that Sessions’ threat could make federal legalization more likely.

With the Jan. 19 deadline looming, Congress might simply add another short-term extension to Rohrabacher-Blumenauer in order to avoid a government shutdown. However, it remains to be seen whether pro-cannabis lawmakers will succeed in getting protections for both medical and adult-use marijuana.

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