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Waiting to Exhale: Cannabis industry breathes sigh of relief over extension of Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment

Rowena Santos Jeff Brown January 11, 2016

With the recent signing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (H.R. 2029), President Obama extended a provision through September 2016 that restricts the federal government from interfering with states’ rights to enact their own medical cannabis laws. The legislation, also known as the 2016 Omnibus Spending Bill, included the bipartisan Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prevents the federal government from expending any funds to prevent 33 states from “implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

As previously reported on Tracking Cannabis, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in 2015 provided the grounds used by Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), one of California’s oldest lawful marijuana dispensaries, to overturn the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) permanent injunction against MAMM’s distribution of marijuana in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

In U.S. v. Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that the DOJ’s permanent injunction could only be enforced against MAMM insofar as that organization is in violation of “State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” At the time of the ruling, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was set to expire on Dec. 11, 2015. It was renewed one week later.

With the extension of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, the right of the states to determine their own laws for medical marijuana use enjoys a shield from federal intervention… at least through Sept. 30, 2016.

Jeff Brown is a partner and Rowena Santos is counsel in Thompson Coburn's Business Litigation Group.


Thompson Coburn advises clients on state laws governing the business of cannabis to facilitate compliance with those state laws. Federal laws concerning cannabis currently conflict with state laws in states that have legalized cannabis or possession of cannabis. Although federal enforcement policy may at times defer to these states’ laws and not enforce conflicting federal laws, interested businesses and individuals should be aware that compliance with state law in no way assures compliance with federal law, and there is a risk that conflicting federal laws may be enforced in the future. In addition to this Cannabis-specific note, readers should review Thompson Coburn’s Conditions of Use / Disclaimers page containing other important information.