Little Federal protection exists for the cannabis industry. Under Federal law, it is illegal to possess, use, buy, sell, or cultivate marijuana in all United States jurisdictions, since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, claiming it has a high potential for abuse and has no acceptable medical use. However, currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have laws broadly legalizing cannabis in some form. Read on to learn more about the dynamics between Federal and State cannabis policies.
Since Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era Cole Memorandum protecting states that legalized medical marijuana from Federal persecution, there has been much speculation on the repercussions in States that have legalized medical (M) and adult-use (A) cannabis use. Recently, Sessions made public comment clarifying that federal prosecutors “haven’t been working small marijuana cases (possession, for example) before, they are not going to be working them now.” We’re sure a collective sigh of relief was experienced in that regard. U.S. attornies will decide how to handle more prevalent and pressing issues such as illegal cannabis-growing operations on national parklands, gangs and drug distribution, and the black market.
In addition to the Cole Memo, there are other protections in place that cannabis industry stakeholders should be aware of. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer* Amendment was/is of particular concern for the cannabis industry. The Omnibus Bill (bundled appropriations measures) has contained the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment (previously the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment), a rider to the annual budget since 2014 that defunded prosecutions of state-legal medical marijuana distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana, effectively prohibiting such prosecutions without actually legalizing medical marijuana. Without the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, Sessions’ actions could have broader and harsher repercussions. Those following this amendment were on the edge of their seats, waiting to see if the rider would be included in the latest Omnibus Bill. Throughout the appropriations process (historically, the U.S. is always behind on solidifying our spending bills), if no stopgap measures were taken, and the government shutdown, the only formal protection for medical marijuana in place would be in dire jeopardy. The inclusion of the amendment is not guaranteed and is something of particular importance to pay attention to when it comes to federal appropriations bills. Here’s a condensed version of the events of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 spending bill as it pertains to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment:
For a detailed description of Congress and spending bills, check out this post by Pew Research Center.
In short, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer is safe until the end of FY 2018. Short of the Federal legalization of the cannabis industry, it is a priority for the industry to have (at the very least) adult-use cannabis use included in the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. In theory, this could be accomplished by simply removing the term “medical” in the Amendment text.
With the potential ominous repercussions of no Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment off of our minds until September 30th, we can focus our attention on what’s happening on a state, municipal and local level in our respective locales. The next date we Californians have to look forward to is July 1, 2018. Onward and upwards!