Feds Back off Medical Marijuana Enforcement in 32 States and DC


On Dec. 16, 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the "Cromnibus” spending bill (public law no. 113-235). The law provides $1.1 trillion dollars to fund the government through summer 2015 and also includes a section that prohibits the Department of Justice (DOJ) from arresting or prosecuting anyone acting in accordance with state laws that legalize medical marijuana.

Section 538, called the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, states that funds made available through the Cromnibus cannot be used to "prevent… [32 listed] States [and the District of Columbia] from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Pro-medical marijuana advocates say this will stop direct interference from the DOJ in the implementation of medical marijuana state laws; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids and arrests; criminal prosecutions; asset seizure and forfeiture; and imprisonment.

The amendment specifically lists 22 of the 23 legal medical marijuana states and the District of Columbia (New York was not listed), as well as the 10 states that have legalized use of cannabidiol.  The amendment was sponsored by 12 members of Congress (6 Republicans and 6 Democrats) and was passed with 219 votes (49 Republicans and 170 Democrats) in May 2014 after seven failed votes dating back to 2004.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated, "The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana.”

Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) stated, "This is essentially saying, look, if you are following State law, you are a legal resident doing your business under State law, the Feds just can’t come in and bust you and bust the doctors and bust the patient.”

172 Republicans and 15 Democrats voted against the amendment including Representative Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA) who released a statement explaining why: "Across the country, several state-level efforts to loosen restrictions on marijuana have been prone to abuse and mismanagement. [I] voted against yesterday’s amendment in order to avoid the creation of a patchwork drug policy that would have broad implications on everything from law enforcement to health care.”

Representative William Keating (D-MA), who also voted against the amendment, stated, "We don’t yet have comprehensive distribution policies in place and law enforcement has a role in holding dispensaries to appropriate consumer protections. More importantly, the federal government has the ability to monitor alcohol, tobacco, and firearms even though each state has their own regulations for those. I don’t believe we should be carving out a special exemption for medical marijuana.”

The law, and, therefore, the amendment, expires in September 2015 when another spending bill is needed to fund the government.