Medical marijuana patients and providers protected from federal prosecution under new spending bill

Medical cannabis advocates march to Los Angeles City Hall.

Today, in a move which will surely ease the minds of many Maine medical marijuana patients and growers, the House of Representatives passed a short-term federal spending bill that includes a provision extending legal protections for medical cannabis. The provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, prohibits the Justice Department from spending any federal funds to to prevent medical marijuana states from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

The amendment has been included in each omnibus budget bill since 2014, and has served to protect medical marijuana growers and users who follow their states’ medical marijuana laws from federal prosecution. While cannabis – medical or otherwise – is still federally prohibited, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment deprives the Justice Department of funds with which to prosecute patients and their providers. The amendment was set to expire on April 28, and if Congress hadn’t reauthorized it as part of the spending deal, patients, caregivers, and dispensaries nationwide would have been exposed to potential federal prosecution. Fortunately for patients and growers, however, the spending bill, which is a short-term solution to fund the federal government through late September, includes the amendment.

The amendment extends no protection to recreational cannabis growers and users, however, and concerns among the industry have only grown since Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed hostility toward recreational marijuana in January. Even as the Maine legislature works to hammer out the laws governing Maine’s own recreational marijuana program, the legal future of recreational cannabis nationwide remains uncertain.

And while the spending bill will protect medical marijuana patients and providers through September, many feel a more permanent solution is needed. Medical cannabis advocate Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, who supported the amendment, said in a statement:

“Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty, but this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use.”

Fortunately for patients who rely on medical cannabis and those who provide it, the near-term future of medical cannabis is settled, and federal prosecution of lawful participants in state medical marijuana programs remains unlikely. An effort to ensure inclusion of a similar amendment, called the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, in 2018’s federal budget bill is already underway. Until a more substantial federal policy change can be implemented, stop-gap solutions like the spending bill amendment remain the first line of defense from federal raids and prosecution for patients and growers in Maine and elsewhere.

Matthew Dubois

About Matthew Dubois

Matt is an attorney in the Bangor area, where he runs a statewide practice focused on Maine cannabis law.