Rohrabacher–Farr amendment

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The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment (also known as the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment) is legislation first introduced by U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey in 2001, prohibiting the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis 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 cannabis patients, and is viewed as a historic victory for cannabis reform advocates at the federal level.[1] The amendment does not change the legal status of cannabis however, and must be renewed each fiscal year in order to remain in effect.[2]

Legislative history[edit]

Initially introduced by Rep. Hinchey in 2001, the amendment was withdrawn before it could be brought to a vote.[3] In 2003, Hinchey joined with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher to introduce the amendment, leading to a 152–273 defeat the first time the amendment was voted on.[3] The Hinchey–Rohrabacher amendment failed five more times over the next decade, until it passed the House (as the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment) by a 219–189 vote on May 30, 2014, as an attachment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015.[4] The amendment was then introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rand Paul and Cory Booker on June 18,[5] but was not allowed a vote.[6] In December, however, the amendment was inserted into the $1.1 trillion "cromnibus" spending bill as part of final negotiations,[7] and the bill was signed into law by President Obama on December 16, 2014.[8]

The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment passed the House for a second time on June 3, 2015, by a 242–186 margin.[9] It was voted on by members of the Senate for the first time on June 11, 2015, winning approval in a 21–9 Senate Appropriations Committee vote led by sponsor Barbara Mikulski.[10] The amendment remained in the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill that was signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015.[11][12]

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.[13] The amendment was later renewed in a pair of spending bills signed into law on September 29 and December 10,[14][15] and again for an additional week on April 28, 2017.[16]

On May 5, 2017, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment was renewed until September 30, 2017, as part of a $1 trillion spending bill signed into law by President Trump. In regards to the medical cannabis provision, 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 pronouncement that he supports medical cannabis "100 percent".[17][18] Days before the spending bill was signed into law, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote to congressional leaders urging that the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment not be renewed.[19]

On July 27, 2017, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved inclusion of the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment in the CJS appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018, in a voice vote led by sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy.[20] On September 6, however, the U.S. House Committee on Rules blocked a vote on the amendment, due to Republican leadership viewing it as too divisive.[21] The amendment was then renewed on September 8 as part of an emergency aid package,[22] and again through a pair of stopgap spending bills on December 8[23] and December 22[24] (with the latter expiring on January 19, 2018). After expiration of the stopgap bill, renewal of the amendment hinges on the work of the House–Senate conference committee, which reconciles differences between bills of the two chambers.[22]

House votes[edit]

The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment has been introduced on the House floor nine times. It was initially known as the Hinchey–Rohrabacher amendment until Rep. Hinchey retired in January 2013, after which Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr took over as lead sponsor and co-sponsor.[3] In January 2017, Rep. Farr retired from Congress, with Rep. Earl Blumenauer taking over as future lead co-sponsor.[25]

The vote totals for the amendment are as follows:

Year Ayes Noes Not voting
2001
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,[26] garnering the approval of 49 Republicans and 170 Democrats.[27] Among the notable "no" votes was DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was the only member of Democratic leadership to vote against it.[28] The medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access subsequently targeted Schultz with a TV ad criticizing her vote against the amendment.[28]

The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment passed the House in 2015 with the support of 67 Republicans and 175 Democrats.[29]

Amendment text[edit]

The full text of the 2014 House amendment is as follows:[30]

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.

Implementation[edit]

The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment became law in December 2014, but initially failed to have its intended impact, due to the Justice Department interpreting the amendment in an incorrect manner (as later determined by a pair of court rulings). Contrary to the amendment's popular interpretation, the DOJ argued that only state officials were protected from prosecution, and not private individuals or entities involved in the production or distribution of medical cannabis.[31] Since state officials were not being prosecuted to begin with, the DOJ's position was essentially that the amendment had no effect.[32] This stance conflicted with the DOJ's earlier position (leading up to the May 2014 vote), when it advised members of Congress that the amendment's protections could actually apply more broadly than intended, to cover recreational cannabis as well (in addition to medical).[33]

After the amendment's enactment, the Justice Department continued to prosecute medical cannabis providers in accordance with the new interpretation.[34] These actions consequently drew protests from Rohrabacher and others,[35][36] who charged that both the letter and the spirit of the amendment were being violated.[37] The DOJ publicly addressed the matter for the first time in April 2015, when a spokesperson confirmed the much more narrow interpretation of the amendment that was being employed.[38] In response, both Rohrabacher and Farr strongly denounced the interpretation, and a letter was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding an end to the prosecutions.[39][40] A letter was also sent to Inspector General Michael Horowitz in July 2015, seeking a government investigation into the matter.[41][42]

In October 2015, a court ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer affirmed the meaning of Rohrabacher–Farr as the authors originally intended, providing supporters of the amendment with a key legal victory.[43] Judge Breyer in his decision was especially critical of the DOJ interpretation, stating that it "defies language and logic" and "tortures the plain meaning of the statute", and was "counterintuitive and opportunistic".[44] 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 prosecutions.[45][46] The Justice Department appealed Breyer's ruling, but in April 2016 it withdrew the appeal.[47][48] In August 2016, the DOJ interpretation was rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as well, in a separate case consolidating the appeals of 10 medical cannabis providers in the states of California and Washington.[49] 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.[50][51]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lopez, German (May 30, 2014). "The House just voted to protect medical marijuana patients from federal interference". Vox. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  2. ^ Sullum, Jacob (January 4, 2016). "The Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana Was Not Lifted". Reason. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c Angell, Tom (November 24, 2017). "Federal Medical Marijuana Amendment Author Dies At 79". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved November 24, 2017. 
  4. ^ Sherer, Steph (May 31, 2014). "First major victory in the fight to end federal interference". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  5. ^ Ferner, Matt; Reilly, Ryan J. (June 19, 2014). "Senate Could Follow House In Blocking DEA From Targeting Medical Marijuana". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  6. ^ Piper, Bill (December 15, 2014). "A Decade of Hard Work Turns into Historic Marijuana Victory in Congress". Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  7. ^ Liszewski, Mike (December 10, 2014). "Congress Set to Pass Landmark Medical Marijuana Legislation". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  8. ^ Hermes, Kris (December 29, 2014). "Feds Back off Medical Marijuana Enforcement in 32 States and DC". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Rohrabacher Hails Passage of Medical Marijuana Amendment" (Press release). June 4, 2015. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  10. ^ Liszewski, Mike (June 11, 2015). "Senate Committee Approves Mikulski Medical Marijuana Amendment with Strong Bipartisan Support". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  11. ^ Liszewski, Mike (December 16, 2015). "Congress Set to Reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Cannabis Amendment". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  12. ^ Sherer, Steph (December 21, 2015). "Congress Extends 'Ceasefire' On Medical Marijuana, but Can They Clear the Smoke?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  13. ^ Angell, Tom (April 21, 2016). "Senators Vote to Bar DEA From Harassing Medical Marijuana Patients". marijuana.com. Retrieved January 3, 2017. 
  14. ^ Phillips, Nick (September 29, 2016). "BREAKING: Rohrabacher-Farr Extended Until December". The Marijuana Times. Retrieved January 2, 2017. 
  15. ^ Liszewski, Mike (December 12, 2016). "Congress Votes to Extend Rohrabacher-Farr Through April". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved January 2, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Federal medical cannabis protections extended another week". Marijuana Business Daily. April 28, 2017. 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. ^ Angell, Tom (June 12, 2017). "Exclusive: Sessions Asks Congress To Undo Medical Marijuana Protections". MassRoots. Retrieved June 12, 2017. 
  20. ^ Angell, Tom (July 27, 2017). "Senators OK State Medical Marijuana Protections, Rejecting Sessions". MassRoots. Retrieved July 27, 2017. 
  21. ^ Labak, Aleta (September 6, 2017). "GOP-led House Rules Committee blocks voting on bipartisan marijuana amendments". The Cannabist. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  22. ^ a b Schroyer, John (September 8, 2017). "Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment extended until December". Marijuana Business Daily. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  23. ^ Pasquariello, Alex; Wallace, Alicia (December 8, 2017). "Federal marijuana protections safe for now with stopgap spending bill". The Cannabist. Retrieved December 8, 2017. 
  24. ^ Pasquariello, Alex (December 22, 2017). "Trump signs stopgap spending bill extending federal medical marijuana protections for a few more weeks". The Cannabist. Retrieved December 22, 2017. 
  25. ^ Wallace, Alicia (April 10, 2017). "44 in Congress support effort to keep DOJ handcuffed in medical cannabis states". The Cannabist. Retrieved May 8, 2017. 
  26. ^ Dumain, Emma (May 30, 2014). "House Marijuana Votes Earn Backing of Rare Bipartisan Coalition (Video)". Roll Call. Retrieved January 2, 2017. 
  27. ^ "Final Vote Results For Roll Call 258". house.gov. May 30, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2017. 
  28. ^ a b Ferner, Matt (June 5, 2014). "New Ads Target Members Of Congress Who Opposed Medical Marijuana Measure". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 2, 2017. 
  29. ^ "Final Vote Results For Roll Call 283". house.gov. June 3, 2015. Retrieved June 17, 2017. 
  30. ^ "Amendment Text: H.Amdt.748 — 113th Congress (2013–2014)". congress.gov. Retrieved January 4, 2017. 
  31. ^ Sullum, Jacob (August 6, 2015). "The Justice Department's Embarrassing Medical Marijuana Switcheroo". Reason. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
  32. ^ Ingraham, Christopher (August 6, 2015). "How the Justice Department seems to have misled Congress on medical marijuana". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 20, 2017. 
  33. ^ Angell, Tom (August 5, 2015). "Exclusive: Justice Department Admits Misleading Congress on Marijuana Vote". marijuana.com. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
  34. ^ Zilversmit, Marc (April 28, 2016). "Obama's Iran-Contra – The president is spending money that Congress has explicitly told him he can't spend". Slate. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
  35. ^ Downs, David (February 16, 2015). "Congressman blasts San Francisco medical pot prosecutions". Smell the Truth. SFGate. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  36. ^ Sullum, Jacob (February 17, 2015). "Is the DOJ Defying Congress by Pursuing Medical Marijuana Cases?". Reason. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  37. ^ Reaction / response by Reps. Farr, Rohrabacher and Lee on Harborside Health Center court case (PDF), February 13, 2015, archived from the original (PDF) on March 15, 2015 
  38. ^ Downs, David (April 3, 2015). "Updated: War on California Medical Marijuana Will Continue, Justice Department Says". Legalization Nation. East Bay Express. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  39. ^ Liszewski, Mike (April 8, 2015). "Reps. Rohrabacher and Farr Send Letter to DOJ to Cease Federal Prosecutions". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  40. ^ "Farr and Rohrabacher tell Attorney General: Stop prosecuting medical marijuana cases" (Press release). April 8, 2015. Archived from the original on December 24, 2016. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  41. ^ Sullum, Jacob (July 31, 2015). "Congressmen Ask DOJ Inspector General to Investigate Continued Harassment of Medical Marijuana Patients and Providers". Reason. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  42. ^ "Rohrabacher, Farr Call for Probe of DOJ's Illegal Med Pot Prosecutions" (Press release). July 31, 2015. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  43. ^ Reilly, Molly (October 20, 2015). "Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Win Battle Against Federal Crackdown". HuffPost. Retrieved June 16, 2017. 
  44. ^ Ingraham, Christopher (October 20, 2015). "Federal court tells the DEA to stop harassing medical marijuana providers". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  45. ^ Downs, David (October 19, 2015). "Major victory for marijuana dispensary in federal court". Smell the Truth. SFGate. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  46. ^ Downs, David (October 21, 2015). "'We Won the War!': Reaction to Landmark Medical Marijuana Ruling". Legalization Nation. East Bay Express. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  47. ^ Sullum, Jacob (April 14, 2016). "DOJ Accepts Decision Saying It May Not Target State-Legal Medical Marijuana Suppliers". Reason. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  48. ^ "Feds Finally End 18-Year Fight Against MMJ Pioneer Lynnette Shaw". Leafly. April 13, 2016. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  49. ^ Ferner, Matt (August 16, 2016). "The Largest Federal Appeals Court Tells DOJ To Back Off State-Legal Medical Marijuana". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  50. ^ Dolan, Maura (August 16, 2016). "Feds can't spend money to prosecute people who comply with state medical pot laws, court rules". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  51. ^ Liszewski, Mike (August 16, 2016). "Victory – Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment Continues to Help Medical Marijuana Defendants in Federal Court". Americans for Safe Access. Retrieved January 4, 2017. 

External links[edit]