WASHINGTON, D.C.- Medical cannabis patients and businesses following state laws have received new protections from the U.S. Congress in an unexpected way: as part of the omnibus spending bill expected approved by Congress and signed by President Trump Friday.
Medical patients and businesses lost key federal protections in January when Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, a directive that prohibited the Department of Justice using federal funds to investigate and prosecute those abiding by state medical cannabis laws.
A portion of Section 538 of the omnibus spending bill states:
None of the funds made available under this act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona…to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.
The bill also would expand protections for the industrial hemp industry.
A bi-partisan group in the House of Representatives has been pushing to guarantee Section 538 is in place for fiscal year 2019, as well. Since Section 538 is a spending directive that targets the DOJ, it must be re-approved with every congressional budget.
“We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people,” the group wrote in a letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders recently.
There could now be momentum to extend protections to recreational cannabis programs, as well.
“We are concerned about the Department of Justice enforcing federal marijuana law in a way that blocks implementation of marijuana reform laws in those states that have passed such reforms,” House Republicans and Democrats wrote in a separate letter on Thursday. “The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s marijuana policy violates the principles of federalism and the Tenth Amendment. Consistent with those principles, we believe that states ought to retain jurisdiction over most criminal justice matters within their borders. This is how the Founders intended our system to function.”
Congress may have avoided political embarrassment by averting another government shutdown by approving the new bill.
This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the Congressional spending bill has been signed into law.