By John Schroyer
A key federal law protecting the medical marijuana industry from interference by the U.S. Department of Justice has been extended until Dec. 8 under the provisions of an emergency aid package approved Friday by Congress, Marijuana Business Daily has learned.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment – which has had to be renewed annually by Congress and was formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr – was set to expire Sept. 30.
However, it will now remain in place for at least several more months. The amendment prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana programs, or from prosecuting MMJ businesses compliant with state law.
The amendment’s future was thrown into doubt this week when the House Rules Committee blocked the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment – along with several other cannabis amendments – from receiving floor votes.
But an emergency aid package for victims of Hurricane Harvey also extended the current federal budget, meaning that the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment has received at least a stay of execution.
President Donald Trump signed the package into law Friday.
Amendment’s third reprieve
This is the third time the amendment has remained in place by default because Congress has kicked the can down the road on the federal budget: It survived two previous expiration dates in April and May, also without being voted on apart from the entire federal budget.
That, however, means the amendment’s future is still in doubt, said Massachusetts-based cannabis attorney Bob Carp.
“I do think it’s a coin flip. It’s only a three-month extension,” Carp said. “It makes me a bit uneasy.”
In the face of such federal uncertainty, and with a U.S. attorney general who is openly anti-marijuana, the marijuana industry must “start circling the wagons,” Carp added.
Time to ‘join forces’
“We need, really, to join forces. There are too many disparate groups,” he continued. “If we pooled the money, lobbied and did what tobacco and some of the other successful vice interests have done, I think marijuana would have a far better chance.
“Right now, we’re fractured, with people representing their own interests. And it’s dangerous to the entire industry.”
Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in an email to Marijuana Business Daily that “this is good news, but we have to win the fight in December.
“We also need real reform – an actual change in federal law, so we don’t have to have this fight every few months.”
Marijuana Policy Project’s executive director, Rob Kampia, added via email that “If any allies out there are celebrating, they shouldn’t be.”
Kampia said the fate of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment is now going to be in the hands of a joint House-Senate conference committee charged with reconciling differences between the two chambers’ federal budget bills. So the amendment is still very much in danger.
“Now we must pray that one of the four good guys on that conference committee will promote our marijuana amendment,” Kampia said, and called the situation “the nightmare scenario we’ve been scrambling to avoid since May.”
In a joint statement issued Monday, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Blumenauer said, “While this action provides a measure of certainty for the millions of medical marijuana patients and the clinics and business that support them, much more needs to be done… Ultimately, we need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use. Prohibition is a failed policy.”
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]