Rohrabacher–Farr amendment

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The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment is legislation first introduced by U.S. Reps. Maurice Hinchey, Dana Rohrabacher, and Sam Farr in 2003, prohibiting the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. It passed the House in May 2014 after six previously failed attempts, becoming law in December 2014 as part of an omnibus spending bill. The passage of the amendment was the first time either chamber of Congress had voted to protect medical marijuana patients, and is viewed as a historic victory for marijuana reform advocates at the federal level.[1] The amendment does not change the legal status of marijuana however, and must be renewed each fiscal year in order to remain in effect.[2]

Legislative history[edit]

Initially known as the Hinchey–Rohrabacher amendment with U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey as its chief sponsor, the amendment was defeated by a vote of 152–273 upon its initial introduction in 2003. It was defeated five more times over the next decade until it passed the House by a 219–189 vote on May 30, 2014, as an attachment to the CJS Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015.[3] The amendment was then introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rand Paul and Cory Booker on June 18,[4] but did not receive a vote.[5] In December, however, the amendment was inserted (without a vote) into the $1.1 trillion "cromnibus" spending bill as part of final negotiations,[6] and the bill was signed into law by President Obama on December 16, 2014.[7]

The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment passed the House for a second time on June 3, 2015, by a 242–186 vote.[8] It was voted on by members of the Senate for the first time on June 11, 2015, winning approval in a 21–9 Appropriations Committee vote led by sponsor Barbara Mikulski.[9] The amendment remained in the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill that was signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015.[10][11]

The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment was not voted on by the House in 2016, but did pass the Senate Appropriations Committee for a second time on April 21, 2016, by a 21–8 vote.[12] The amendment was later renewed in a pair of spending bills signed into law on September 29 and December 10,[13][14] and again for one more week on April 28, 2017.[15] The amendment was renamed to Rohrabacher–Blumenauer following the retirement of Sam Farr in January 2017, with Rep. Earl Blumenauer taking his place as co-sponsor.[16]

On May 5, 2017, the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment was renewed until September 30, 2017, as part of a $1 trillion spending bill signed by President Trump. In regards to the medical marijuana provision, President Trump added a signing statement that read "Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The statement has been interpreted as the Trump administration reserving the right to ignore the amendment and enforce federal law, which could conflict with Trump's earlier pronouncements that he supports medical marijuana "100 percent" and that it should be left up to the states.[17][18]

House votes[edit]

The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment has been introduced on the House floor eight times. The vote totals are as follows:

Year Ayes Noes Not voting
2003 152 273 9
2004 148 268 17
2005 161 264 8
2006 163 259 10
2007 165 262 10
2012 163 262 6
2014 219 189 23
2015 242 186 4

The passage of the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment in 2014 was noted for its rare bipartisan support, garnering the approval of 49 Republicans and 170 Democrats.[19] Among the notable "no" votes was DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was the only member of Democratic leadership to vote against it.[20] The pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access subsequently targeted her with a TV ad criticizing her vote against the amendment.[20]

The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment passed the House in 2015 with the support of 67 Republicans and 175 Democrats.

Amendment text[edit]

The full text of the 2014 House amendment is as follows:[21]

None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.


Following enactment of the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment in December 2014, the Justice Department continued with a number of prosecutions that Rohrabacher and others contended were in violation of the newly passed law.[22][23] In April 2015, the Justice Department publicized its interpretation of the amendment, claiming that authority still existed for prosecution of individuals and organizations acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.[24] Both Rohrabacher and Farr blasted the interpretation,[25] sending off letters to Attorney General Eric Holder[26][27] and Inspector General Michael Horowitz[28][29] demanding accountability for the Justice Department's actions. In October 2015, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled in favor of the amendment's authors, stating that the DOJ interpretation "defies language and logic" and "tortures the plain meaning of the statute", and was "counterintuitive and opportunistic".[30] The ruling lifted an injunction against a California dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, and was considered to set important legal precedent inhibiting future DOJ prosecutions.[31][32] The Justice Department appealed Breyer's ruling, but in April 2016 it withdrew the appeal.[33][34] In August 2016, the interpretation was rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as well, in a separate case consolidating the appeals of 10 medical marijuana providers in the states of California and Washington.[35] The unanimous ruling of the three-judge panel is binding on the nine western states of the Ninth Circuit, and is considered likely to hold influence on other circuit courts.[36][37]


  1. ^ Lopez, German (2014-05-30). "The House just voted to protect medical marijuana patients from federal interference". Vox. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  2. ^ Sullum, Jacob (2016-01-04). "The Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana Was Not Lifted". Reason. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  3. ^ Sherer, Steph (2014-05-31). "First major victory in the fight to end federal interference". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  4. ^ Ferner, Matt; Reilly, Ryan J. (2014-06-19). "Senate Could Follow House In Blocking DEA From Targeting Medical Marijuana". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  5. ^ Piper, Bill (2014-12-15). "A Decade of Hard Work Turns into Historic Marijuana Victory in Congress". Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  6. ^ Liszewski, Mike (2014-12-10). "Congress Set to Pass Landmark Medical Marijuana Legislation". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  7. ^ Hermes, Kris (2014-12-29). "Feds Back off Medical Marijuana Enforcement in 32 States and DC". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  8. ^ "Rohrabacher Hails Passage of Medical Marijuana Amendment" (Press release). 2015-06-04. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  9. ^ Liszewski, Mike (2015-06-11). "Senate Committee Approves Mikulski Medical Marijuana Amendment with Strong Bipartisan Support". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  10. ^ Liszewski, Mike (2015-12-16). "Congress Set to Reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Cannabis Amendment". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  11. ^ Sherer, Steph (2015-12-21). "Congress Extends 'Ceasefire' On Medical Marijuana, but Can They Clear the Smoke?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  12. ^ Angell, Tom (2016-04-21). "Senators Vote to Bar DEA From Harassing Medical Marijuana Patients". Retrieved 2017-01-03. 
  13. ^ Phillips, Nick (2016-09-29). "BREAKING: Rohrabacher-Farr Extended Until December". The Marijuana Times. Retrieved 2017-01-02. 
  14. ^ Liszewski, Mike (2016-12-12). "Congress Votes to Extend Rohrabacher-Farr Through April". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved 2017-01-02. 
  15. ^ "Federal medical cannabis protections extended another week". Marijuana Business Daily. April 28, 2017. Retrieved May 8, 2017. 
  16. ^ Wallace, Alicia (April 10, 2017). "44 in Congress support effort to keep DOJ handcuffed in medical cannabis states". The Cannabist. Retrieved May 8, 2017. 
  17. ^ Angell, Tom (May 8, 2017). "Trump Might Ignore Congress's Medical Marijuana Rider". MassRoots. Retrieved May 8, 2017. 
  18. ^ Sullum, Jacob (May 8, 2017). "Trump's Medical Marijuana Threat Contradicts the Law and His Own Position". Reason. Retrieved May 8, 2017. 
  19. ^ Dumain, Emma (2014-05-30). "House Marijuana Votes Earn Backing of Rare Bipartisan Coalition (Video)". Roll Call. Retrieved 2017-01-02. 
  20. ^ a b Ferner, Matt (2014-06-05). "New Ads Target Members Of Congress Who Opposed Medical Marijuana Measure". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-01-02. 
  21. ^ "Amendment Text: H.Amdt.748 — 113th Congress (2013-2014)". Retrieved 2017-01-04. 
  22. ^ Sullum, Jacob (2015-02-17). "Is the DOJ Defying Congress by Pursuing Medical Marijuana Cases?". Reason. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  23. ^ Downs, David (2015-02-16). "Congressman blasts San Francisco medical pot prosecutions". Smell the Truth. SFGate. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  24. ^ Downs, David (2015-04-03). "Updated: War on California Medical Marijuana Will Continue, Justice Department Says". Legalization Nation. East Bay Express. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  25. ^ Ferner, Matt (2015-04-03). "Congressmen Say DOJ's Interpretation Of Their Medical Marijuana Amendment Is 'Emphatically Wrong'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  26. ^ Liszewski, Mike (2015-04-08). "Reps. Rohrabacher and Farr Send Letter to DOJ to Cease Federal Prosecutions". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  27. ^ "Farr and Rohrabacher tell Attorney General: Stop prosecuting medical marijuana cases" (Press release). 2015-04-08. Archived from the original on 2016-12-24. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  28. ^ Sullum, Jacob (2015-07-31). "Congressmen Ask DOJ Inspector General to Investigate Continued Harassment of Medical Marijuana Patients and Providers". Reason. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  29. ^ "Rohrabacher, Farr Call for Probe of DOJ's Illegal Med Pot Prosecutions" (Press release). 2015-07-31. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  30. ^ Ingraham, Christopher (2015-10-20). "Federal court tells the DEA to stop harassing medical marijuana providers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  31. ^ Downs, David (2015-10-19). "Major victory for marijuana dispensary in federal court". Smell the Truth. SFGate. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  32. ^ Downs, David (2015-10-21). "'We Won the War!': Reaction to Landmark Medical Marijuana Ruling". Legalization Nation. East Bay Express. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  33. ^ Sullum, Jacob (2016-04-14). "DOJ Accepts Decision Saying It May Not Target State-Legal Medical Marijuana Suppliers". Reason. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  34. ^ "Feds Finally End 18-Year Fight Against MMJ Pioneer Lynnette Shaw". Leafly. 2016-04-13. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  35. ^ Ferner, Matt (2016-08-16). "The Largest Federal Appeals Court Tells DOJ To Back Off State-Legal Medical Marijuana". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  36. ^ Dolan, Maura (2016-08-16). "Feds can't spend money to prosecute people who comply with state medical pot laws, court rules". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  37. ^ Liszewski, Mike (2016-08-16). "Victory - Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment Continues to Help Medical Marijuana Defendants in Federal Court". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved 2017-01-04. 

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