The cannabis industry has felt tremendous amount of uncertainty ever since Jeff Sessions was nominated for Attorney General. Sessions’ multiple negative comments about cannabis, both in the past and over the last few months, have led to nonstop speculation as to what the Department of Justice (DoJ) will do to businesses in states that allow for the legal use of medical and/or recreational cannabis.
Jared Polis (D-Colorado), who is also a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, would like to protect the industry from the whims of Sessions, and future Attorneys General, by removing the purse strings from the DoJ. According to the Denverite, Polis made comments last week announcing plans to attach an amendment to Congress’ annual spending bill to prevent DoJ from using any federal funds to go after businesses operating legally in states that have existing medical or recreational cannabis laws.
If we successfully attach it and it becomes law, no Attorney General — despite what they might want to do — would be able to use the funds that Congress gave them to crack down on activities that are legal under state law with regard to marijuana. – Jared Polis
The proposed amendment would be similar to the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, from 2014, that prevents DoJ form using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. The current extension of Rohrabacher-Farr is scheduled to expire next month on April 28th. Rohrabacher-Farr does not prevent DoJ from spending on the enforcement of any recreational laws. Presumably, Polis’ new amendment would fix that loophole.
Our Take: Because cannabis remains illegal on the list of “Schedule 1” drugs on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), state laws are in conflict with federal laws. The Obama administration issued the “Cole Memo“, which provided guidance to all US attorneys regarding enforcement of cannabis laws and allowed states to implement their existing laws. However, Sessions is not bound by that memo and has not offered any guidance other than to hint that he is OK with medical cannabis laws.
Until Congress actually takes action to deschedule cannabis from the CSA, this is probably the next-best alternative. Preventing spending does tie the hands of DoJ and allows the state experiments to continue, even while the manufacture and sale of cannabis remain illegal under federal law.