The most significant legislation to date protecting the medical cannabis industry from the use of Department of Justice funds for enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) was renewed on Friday, March 23, 2018. On that day, the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill was signed into law by President Trump. It included an updated version of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment which prohibits the use of DOJ funds for CSA enforcement in states with a medical cannabis program. Before the bill made it to the president’s desk, its fate hinged on a key vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Both chambers voted to approve the bill on Thursday, March 22.
In recent weeks, the amendment’s renewal appeared likely. This outcome, however, was far from certain given the fierce negotiations surrounding the final spending package. After months of uncertainty regarding the fate of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, and upon the signing of the Omnibus legislation, medical cannabis producers, retailers and patients can continue to participate in state cannabis programs knowing that federal Department of Justice funds cannot be used to undertake enforcement activities against these programs. The amendment will once again be up for renewal when the bill expires later this year on Sept. 30, 2018.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prevent states with medical cannabis regulations from implementing laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical cannabis. The amendment applies to medical cannabis but not recreational cannabis, and does not change the designation of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance under the CSA.
The development is especially critical for an industry facing staunch opposition from the Trump administration, particularly from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In January, Sessions rescinded the long-standing Cole Memorandum, which established enforcement priorities on cannabis enforcement. As previously discussed on Tracking Cannabis, a failure to renew the amendment would have resulted in significant fallout with wide-ranging impact throughout the $6.73 billion cannabis industry (as of 2016).
Various legislative solutions have recently been proposed on Capitol Hill seeking to provide long-term, broader protections to the cannabis industry. One such bill, the Marijuana Justice Act, drafted by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), proposes to de- schedule cannabis and expunge the records of individuals convicted of certain cannabis-related crimes.
If you or your company have any questions about the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment or the future of cannabis legal issues, please feel free to contact a member of our team. Our attorneys are experienced with many facets of the industry, including product safety, licensing, M&A, and product marketing.
Michael Rosenblum is an associate in the firm’s corporate practice and is a memberof the firm’s cannabis industry team.