Protection from federal prosecution for medical marijuana patients and providers was extended through September on Friday when President Trump signed a must-pass $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill the protections were riding on, averting a government shutdown.
The protections, guaranteed by the attached Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from spending money on drug prosecutions of citizens in states with medical marijuana who are following state law, including Montana.
“Support for medical marijuana has over 90 percent support nationally. The amendment’s preservation was expected, but it’s still good to see it get done,” says Kate Cholewa, spokesperson of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.
California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher first attached the protective amendment to the spending bill in 2014. Because it is tied to the yearly budget, it must be passed every year, and usually manages without much drama.
But this time Rohrabacher’s fellow Republicans on the GOP-dominated House Rules Committee blocked the amendment from a floor vote it would have passed in September. Multiple provisional spending bills to prevent a shutdown during budget negotiations preserved last year’s version of the amendment for weeks and months at a time. A version had already been passed by the Senate.
Rohrabacher got his floor vote Thursday morning after an impassioned speech in defense of medical marijuana, and the House passed the protections 219-189.
While the Rohrabacher protections have been successfully used in court, the defense is only as strong as the medical marijuana laws in the state its being used in. A federal judge admitted in 2017 that a Bozeman medical marijuana provider indicted on drug charges appeared to have made every attempt to follow the law, but since the law was vague in a key area, the DOJ was allowed to prosecute.
Efforts by MTCIA, legislators and regulators have since clarified state medical marijuana laws to provide clear guidelines for providers while making gray- and black-market corruption in the medical system much more difficult though seed-to-sale tracking.
Strong federal protections contingent on strong Montana laws arrived at just the right time. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked Congress since May not to renew the Rohrabacher amendment, and in January revoked 2009 guidelines instructing federal prosecutors not to indict medical marijuana growers.