What Does a Government Shutdown Mean for Medical Cannabis?

Closed for Business Sign on U.S. CapitolIf you have seen the news lately, you know that the possibility of a government shutdown is looming. Without any action, government funding ends at midnight on Friday April 28th, meaning that all non-essential government operations and agencies are suspended until a budget is passed. This would NOT include the Department of Justice (DOJ) as it is considered essential.

Despite both houses of Congress being controlled by Republican majorities and a Republican President in the White House, the inability to agree on a budget to keep the government open is a strong possibility due to conflicts with a border wall and other funding issues.

Since 1974, the Government has shut-down a total of 18 times. Some have lasted only a few days, while others have laster several weeks. No matter how long the shutdown, individuals who use medical cannabis or who are involved in the cannabis industry could be at risk of prosecution.

In the last several years, medical cannabis patients have been protected by an appropriations rider known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment which has prevented the DOJ from interfering with state medical cannabis programs and patients. Lawmakers are already fighting to include protections for medical cannabis patients for FY 2018, but the remainder of this fiscal year remains uncertain. If there is a government shutdown, those protections would no longer be in place.

But if the government is shut down, doesn’t that mean that DEA agents won’t be getting paid?

No. In fact, nearly 85% of the Department of Justice continues to function under a shutdown. In a contingency plan for FY17 issued by the DOJ, it is noted that “All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counternarcotics investigations.” The branches that are affected are the civil litigation departments, not the enforcement arms. Without an appropriation rider in place, nothing prevents the DEA from expending funds to prosecute medical cannabis users and the medical cannabis industry. In theory, this could happen as early as 12:01 AM on Saturday, April 29th.

Congress has until Friday to come up with a budget or give themselves more time. However, just because the Government may shut down does not necessarily mean that the DEA will immediately resume raids. With a focus on illegal immigration and violent crime, the Justice Department may expend its resources in other areas, but there is no way to be certain until there is a better picture of the upcoming budget.

In the event of a Government shutdown, it is important to be prepared for the worst, make sure your staff and family are trained for federal law enforcement encounters. Visit our Raid Center to see the steps you can take before and after a potential raid.