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Last Friday, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 244, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, into law. This budget bill will fund the government through September 30, 2017. Included in the appropriations bill was language that prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to limit the implementation of state medical cannabis programs.
The language was originally proposed by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and was included in the final bill as section 537 (below). This language has been interpreted to protect patients from prosecution by a Federal Appeals Court in the Ninth Circuit. In addition to signing the bill itself, the President issued an accompanying signing statement highlighting particular provisions of the bill. There has been significant press around this signing statement, with some media going as far to say that the President will outright ignore this appropriations rider. However, we take a narrower view.
What does the signing order say about medical cannabis?
The President’s signing statement states, “Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
What does this statement mean for the future of medical cannabis?
As part of President Trump’s duties, he must faithfully execute the law as stated in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution. The law, as of Friday, May 5th, includes a Congressional budget that prohibits the spending of federal dollars toward preventing the implementation of state medical cannabis programs. The signing statement does not say the Administration plans to ignore state laws nor does it say that medical cannabis programs are unconstitutional. What this statement does do is fuel a tremendous amount of uncertainty around the future of existing medical cannabis programs. To end this constant uncertainty, we must pass permanent federal laws like the CARERS Act, Ending the Federal Prohibition on Marijuana Act of 2017 (H.R. 1227), and others to ensure the rights of medical cannabis patients are protected.
What does a signing statement do?
In addition to President Donald Trump, several other recent presidents have issued signing statements including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Signing statements are usually issued for political reasons or to highlight a president’s view on the constitutionality of certain parts of a bill. However, while it expresses opinion, it does not allow the president to unilaterally decide which parts of a bill to enforce. Signing statements have been equivocally compared to line item vetoes. Line item vetoes have been ruled unconstitutional, so a president must either reject the whole bill, or sign the bill into law. Other interpretations of signing statements have indicated that they have no legal “validity or effect”.
None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.