Members of Congress have re-authorized a federal provision prohibiting the Justice Department from interfering in state-authorized medical cannabis programs. The provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, was included in short-term spending legislation, House Resolution 2028, and will expire on April 28, 2017.
Initially enacted by Congress in 2014, the amendment maintains that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” In August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the language bars the federal government from taking legal action against any individual involved in medical marijuana-related activity absent evidence that the defendant is in clear violation of state law.
Because the provision is included as part of a Congressional spending package and does not explicitly amend the US Controlled Substances Act, members must re-authorize the amendment annually. However, House leadership may prohibit federal lawmakers from revisiting the issue when they craft a longer-term funding bill this spring. Such a change in House rules would require members of the Senate to pass an equivalent version of the legislation, which would then need to be approved by House leaders in conference committee.
Looking ahead to 2017, marijuana law reforms face an uncertain future. Therefore, it is more important than ever that this federal protection remains in place to ensure that these patient programs and those who rely upon them are not subject to federal interference.