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(Washington, D.C.) Thursday morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies Appropriations Act (CJS) to protect medical cannabis patients. The amendment, sponsored by Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), prohibits the Depart of Justice from spending funds to interfere with state medical cannabis programs and was approved with strong bipartisan support, 21-8. Last year, the committee approved a nearly identical amendment from Mikulski, with the only change being the addition of Pennsylvania to the list of protected states, bringing the total to 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam.
"I introduced my amendment today because medical marijuana patients obeying state law should not have to worry about federal arrest or losing their state-regulated source of medicine,” said amendment sponsor Mikulski. “States have taken the lead in providing safe and legal access this treatment option to patients under a physician's supervision. This amendment is designed to make sure that federal government does not use its limited resources on prosecuting individuals who are obeying their state medical marijuana laws."
Commonly referred to as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, after its House sponsors Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), the amendment has been included in the previous two CJS budget bills signed by President Obama. It must be voted on each year to remain in effect, but has not had a vote in the House yet this year. However, since the amendment was in last year’s appropriations bill, the provision will likely remain in effect if this year’s budget is ultimately set by a continuing resolution instead of a clean budget bill.
The amendment has been shown to have real world impact in protecting programs and patients. Federal District Judge Charles cited it in his October 2015 ruling in United States vs Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM). MAMM, a dispensary in California, was charged with openly violating the Controlled Substances Act by operating a medical marijuana business despite the fact that it was operating in compliance with state law. However, Judge Breyer ruled that the federal injunction that caused MAMM to shutdown was invalid unless the DOJ could prove that state law was violated. Last week, DOJ dropped its appeal to Judge Breyer’s ruling.
“Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee reaffirmed that patients, doctors, and businesses operating in compliance with their state medical cannabis laws should not face federal arrest or prosecution,” said Michael Liszewski, Americans for Safe Access’s Government Affairs Director. “The strong bipartisan support for the amendment shows that comprehensive medical cannabis legislation, such as the CARERS Act, would likely pass if it were given a vote. Medical cannabis patients thank Senator Mikulski and the 20 other committee members from both sides of the aisle who voted to protect them.”
Additionally, the CARERS Act has picked up momentum this week in the House. Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) each signed onto the bill as cosponsors. Despite the support for CARERS that has been demonstrated in the appropriations amendment votes, Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Joe Pitts (R-PA) have refused to grant the bill a hearing.