U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been harassing the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer agreement obsessively of late, and indeed, for most of his time in office. Back in May, he wrote Congress a letter requesting authorization for the Justice Department to override state marijuana laws and prosecute those operating state-legal businesses, in essence riding roughshod over state and individual rights.
Formerly the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, before Farr retired earlier this year, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer clause protects medical marijuana programs in legal states from federal intrusion. It bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to target them in any way. Cannabis remains an illegal substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and therefore prohibited by federal law.
Fortunately, events of the past few weeks have left medical protections in place for another three months. Medical cannabis patients, cultivators, and dispensaries do not need to fear Jeff Sessions or any federal crackdowns for at least the next 90 days, thanks to a late last week deal cut by President Trump and politicians in Congress.
President Trump and Congressional leaders negotiated a federal spending, hurricane relief, and debt ceiling agreement that includes a clause for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer. It will provide effective protection from federal harassment for state medical cannabis programs until December 8, 2017, continuing existing protections for a further three months.
Specifically, the deal contains language barring the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prevent states from “implementing a law that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana,” and it includes Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia too. Trump’s deal with the Democrats was not one that Republican leaders saw coming.
The deal effectively ended all attempts by House Republicans to shred the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, at least for now anyway. The agreement, which has been in effect since 2014, uses a budget amendment to stop the Drug Enforcement Agency and other branches of the Justice Department from prosecuting, or even arresting, anyone complying with state medical marijuana laws.
On Wednesday Morning, the House had to send aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey. It approved an emergency measure to inject relief efforts with $8 billion. The measure went from the House to the Senate and passed on a 419-3 majority vote. Democrat leaders in the Senate took responsibility for Harvey’s bill and bundled it into a debt ceiling extension and federal spending package.
Republicans were not happy about co-mingling the two bills, with some, notably House Speaker Paul Ryan, claiming it outright ridiculous. However, President Trump was more interested in moving past the debt and budget debate in favor of passing a package for tax reform. It is possible that Trump saw the offer of the Democrats as a way to get it done.
In essence, Democrats and Republicans in Congress presented opposing offers to President Trump late on Wednesday. Trump decided to go with the Democrat’s offer, which funded relief efforts in Texas for victims of Hurricane Harvey and extended the debt ceiling and federal spending until December 8. The need was dire and the decision an appropriate one, considering the sheer tragedy of Hurricane Harvey.
With FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, just days from running out of funds, there was intense pressure on Congress to pass relief for hurricane victims. Congress relented and passed the debt limit deal and Hurricane Harvey relief in the House and Senate with only mild opposition from Republicans and a majority of support from Democrats.
What does all this have to do with Medical Marijuana?
Good question this, as in truth, all this has very little to do with cannabis at all. The relation is in the original version of the Senate’s federal spending package, which last week’s deal just extended. That version included all language for medical marijuana protections. However, the House’s version of federal spending did not include any of that language because of a move by House Rules Committee Chairman and Republican from Texas, Pete Sessions.
The House had yet to vote on its federal spending version, however. The Senate’s bill had already passed. This is why the deal includes language from the Senate’s federal spending bill and not from the House’s one. The whole deal had not a thing to do with medical cannabis, but everyone in legal state benefits from these extended protections nevertheless.
Besides the relief funding for Hurricane Harvey, the rest of this deal expires on December 8, which is less than three months away. Jeff Sessions and his Justice Department will likely continue fighting the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment at every opportunity, but for now, patients and providers alike can breathe a collective sigh of relief and sleep soundly tonight.