On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the 2018 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill to protect medical marijuana programs from federal intervention in states that have legalized the drug for medical purposes.
The amendment essentially forbids the Department of Justice from using resources to impede state authority’s ability to implement, “their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
“The federal government can’t investigate everything and shouldn’t, and I don’t want them pursuing medical marijuana patients who are following state law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) the man behind the amendment.
The senator argued that the Justice Department should be more focused on dealing with legitimate threats, considering the limited resources it has.
“We have more important things for the Department of Justice to do than tracking down doctors or epileptics using medical marijuana legally in their state,” he said.
However, Republican Senator Richard Shelby (Ala.) believes that even though states’ rights and civil liberties are of utmost importance, instructing the DOJ to not implement federal laws directly conflicts with legal principles.
“If Congress wants to tell the Department of Justice to stop enforcing the medical marijuana laws, then it should change the authorization within the Judiciary Committee, not through an appropriations provision,” Shelby said.
In a May letter to congressional leadership, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pleaded with the legislative branch to let the DOJ do it’s job and not interfere with the apartments ability to implement and enforce existing federal marijuana law. However, Session’s letter went unheeded, and the amendment easily went through.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Session wrote in the letter.
“The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, while talk to reporters on Thursday, said that he intends to offer an amendment to the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill – to match what the Senate had done.
Rohrabacher explained his pro-marijuana amendment saying, “The number of states that are legalizing at least the medical use of cannabis is overwhelming now. Public opinion has always spoken on this issue.” In a challenge to Sessions, Rohrabacher declared, “I think people will listen to their own constituents rather than Sessions.”