Medical marijuana safe from federal crackdown through September, according to near-final budget

Posted at 5:42 PM, May 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-01 19:45:18-04

DENVER – Colorado’s medical marijuana is safe from a federal crackdown through at least September, after lawmakers worked a rider into the bipartisan budget deal to protect states with medical marijuana programs.

The section of the budget deal pertaining to medical marijuana (pages 230-231) says that the Department of Justice may not use any budgetary funds “to prevent any of [a list of states, districts and territories] from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

But puzzlingly, not included on the list of states, districts and territories protected from a DOJ crackdown are six states – Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Two of those states – North Dakota and Indiana – have legalized forms of medical marijuana since November. North Dakota voters approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in November, and just last week, Indiana’s governor signed a bill allowing CBD medical cannabis.

Under current language, neither North Dakota nor Indiana would be protected by federal agents under the budget. Denver7 has reached out to budget writers and the DOJ as to why those six states weren’t included, but have yet to receive any concrete response.

When factoring in Indiana, 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have approved medical marijuana in some form.

Still, the inclusion of the rider, once known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, once again in the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year is good news for some who had worried about a crackdown on legal marijuana under the Donald Trump administration’s DOJ.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the White House have made several statements over the past several months that have concerned the marijuana industry and states that allow it, including one instance in which he compared the opioid epidemic to the use of marijuana, and other statements in which he called the usage of medical marijuana to help recovering opioid addicts "stupid."

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman asked Sessions and the DOJ earlier this yearto come to Colorado to see the medical and recreational industries for themselves, and her office has been in discussions with the DOJ as to how federal officials may treat marijuana in Colorado.

“At this point in time the Administration has not announced what position or action they make take on recreational marijuana,” Coffman told Denver7 Monday, adding that neither Sessions nor the DOJ has yet to take her up on her offer, but that it “remains open.”

“Patients and doctors in states that have approved medical marijuana need to know that they safe from arrest and prosecution by the federal government,” a statement from the Senate Appropriations Committee said.

“Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who pushed for the inclusion of the rider in the budget. “But this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use.”

The rider was first approved in 2014 and has been put into each spending bill since. This year’s bill also includes a section that protects industrial hemp research from a possible DOJ crackdown.

Congress and the president still have to approve the finalized budget, but votes in Congress are expected early this week.

A bill in Colorado’s Legislature that aimed to protect the state from any federal crackdown on either recreational or medical marijuana was killed in a Senate committee Monday after it passed the House in April.

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