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. The amendment does not change the legal status of marijuana however, and must be renewed each fiscal year in order to remain in effect.
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. The amendment was then introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rand Paul and Cory Booker on June 18, but did not receive a vote. In December, however, the amendment was inserted (without a vote) into the $1.1 trillion "cromnibus" spending bill as part of final negotiations, and the bill was signed into law by President Obama on December 16, 2014.
The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment passed the House for a second time on June 3, 2015, by a 242–186 vote. 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. The amendment remained in the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill that was signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015.
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. The amendment was later renewed in a pair of spending bills signed into law on September 29 and December 10, and again for one more week on April 28, 2017. 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.
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.
The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment has been introduced on the House floor eight times. The vote totals are as follows:
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. Among the notable "no" votes was DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was the only member of Democratic leadership to vote against it. The pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access subsequently targeted her with a TV ad criticizing her vote against the amendment.
The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment passed the House in 2015 with the support of 67 Republicans and 175 Democrats.
The full text of the 2014 House amendment is as follows:
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. 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. Both Rohrabacher and Farr blasted the interpretation, sending off letters to Attorney General Eric Holder and Inspector General Michael Horowitz 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". 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. The Justice Department appealed Breyer's ruling, but in April 2016 it withdrew the appeal. 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. 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.
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- "Rohrabacher, Farr Call for Probe of DOJ's Illegal Med Pot Prosecutions" (Press release). 2015-07-31. Retrieved 2016-12-27.
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