The amendment blocks the federal Department of Justice from spending any funds to undermine state medicinal cannabis laws. It is a striking rebuke to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had personally requested that Congress eliminate the amendment and allow him to prosecute medical marijuana providers and patients.
Sessions has repeatedly stated that he opposes marijuana being legal for any reason, and in May sent a letter to Congress urging them to vote down the amendment and allow him to resume prosecuting medical marijuana providers.Sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the amendment passed with strong bipartisan support, a sign that Sessions is isolated politically as rumors of a crackdown on marijuana businesses abound.
When introducing the amendment, Senator Leahy said, “We have more important things for the Justice Department to do than tracking down physicians or epileptics who are using medical marijuana legally in their state.”
The measure was adopted on a voice vote, with little debate. Earlier this month, the same panel voted 24 to 7 for an amendment to allow military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations through U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.“This vote is not only a blow against an outdated Reefer Madness mindset, it is a personal rebuke to Jeff Sessions,” said Tom Angell, founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority.
“The attorney general, in contravention of President Trump’s campaign pledges and of public opinion, specifically asked Congress to give him the power to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are following state laws,” Angell said. “A bipartisan group of his former Senate colleagues just said no.”
“A majority of states now allow medical cannabis, and we will not allow drug warriors in the Justice Department to roll back the clock,” Angell said. “The war on marijuana is ending, even if Jeff Sessions doesn’t realize it yet.”“The Senate is sending a clear message to Jeff Sessions – keep your hands off states that have reformed their marijuana laws,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs.
“Today’s vote is a huge win for the marijuana reform movement, because in the face of real pressure from the Department of Justice, the Senate has opted to block Jeff Sessions from interfering with any medical marijuana law,” Collins said.“This success of the Leahy medical cannabis amendment acknowledges, yet again, that the federal government should not interfere with state medical cannabis programs,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “The passage of the Leahy medical cannabis amendment also shows that Senate support exists for the central elements of the CARERS Act.
“The CARERS Act would make the protections in Leahy medical cannabis amendment permanent and create a much needed framework for research and federal and state cooperation,” Sherer said.
“We are thrilled at this vote,” said Beth Collins, senior director of Government Relations and External Affairs at ASA.
“With 91 Americans a day dying from opioid overdose, and a nearly 25 percent decrease in opioid overdose deaths in states with medical cannabis programs, it is crucial that states are able to continue without federal interference,” Collins said.“With the troubling rhetoric coming from Jeff Sessions and his Justice Department, it is more crucial than ever that Congress protects state approved medical marijuana programs and the patients that benefit from them,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri.“Attorney General Sessions thinks that medical marijuana patients are no better than members of illegal drug cartels,” Altieri said.
“It is imperative that our elected officials remove any potential bite from Sessions’ bark by taking away his ability to use the full force of the federal government to go against the will of over 90 percent of American citizens who support medical marijuana access and, in the process, endangering the well-being of millions of medical marijuana patients,” Altieri said.
“It’s great to see the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee stand up for medical cannabis patients, the responsible businesses that serve them, and the states that have worked hard to create safe, regulated programs,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “More than 90 percent of Americans favor medical marijuana policies, and this amendment is a common-sense way to respect that overwhelming support.
“Now it’s time for the House to do the same,” Smith said. “Patients deserve access to care, states deserve respect, and members of the House deserve the opportunity to vote on amendments like this that have the strong support of their constituents.”“More than half the states have taken a stand and said they want their seriously ill residents to have safe and reliable access to medical marijuana, and today the Senate Appropriations Committee listened,” said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
“What was expected to be a very successful vote passed on an overwhelming voice vote, while opposition to the Leahy amendment was literally a whimper. That sound we heard in the Senate was the sound of a waving white flag as the federal war on medical marijuana patients and providers winds down.
“We strongly urge the rest of Congress to do the right thing and include this amendment in the final budget,” Murphy said. “Even if you are one of the few people who don’t support medical marijuana, states should still have the right to help their most vulnerable residents. They should not have to worry about the Department of Justice interfering.”
The amendment still has to make the final appropriations bill, but it has been added to the final government funding bill each year since 2014. The amendment is currently in effect after being signed into law this year, despite only receiving a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee.If the CJS budget is approved in the Senate, the amendment will go to a special conference committee to reach a compromise with the House. If no budget is approved by September 30, the previous amendment will be automatically renewed for another year.
The amendment – also known as Rohrabacher-Farr – has also been litigated in court with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that, while the amendment is in effect, DOJ cannot prosecute individuals who follow state law on medical marijuana. Currently, 29 states have full medical marijuana laws.
The text of the new amendment, as well as audio of the committee debate, will be online at https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/full-committee-markup-of-the-cjs-thud-and-legislative-branch-appropriations-bills-for-fy2018.
A similar measure was approved by the same committee last year by a vote of 21 – 8, and was previously adopted by the House with a 242 – 186 margin.
According to an April poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 94 percent of U.S. voters support allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes. The same poll showed 73 percent of U.S. voters “oppose government enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.”