2018 Federal Spending Bill Protects Medical Cannabis

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo in January 2018, implying that the federal government would aggressively enforce federal drug laws in the face of state legalization efforts. States that have legalized cannabis reacted with great concern to Sessions’ move. Alaska, for instance, urged the federal government to “reconsider its listing of marijuana as a federal Schedule 1 controlled substance” in House Joint Resolution 21, which state legislators unanimously passed on March 19th.

In response to states’ concerns, Congress extended a policy rider attached to a proposal to fund the federal government through 2018. Section 538 of the spending bill (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018) specifically prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to prevent 46 states (along with D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico) from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The only states not mentioned in the bill (and which are therefore without protection from marijuana law interference) are Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. All of the omitted states have been considering medical marijuana legalization.

The House is expected to vote on the spending bill this week, possibly as early as Thursday. It also includes a provision that maintains the protection of state hemp research programs from federal interference. Congress must pass the bill by Friday at midnight (and the President must sign it) or the federal government faces a shutdown.

A bipartisan coalition of 59 Congressional lawmakers are pushing to include protections for state medical cannabis programs in the 2019 spending bill as well.

“We are concerned about the Department of Justice enforcing federal marijuana law in a way that blocks implementation of marijuana reform laws in those states that have passed such reforms,” the bipartisan group stated in a letter published on March 17th. “The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s marijuana policy violates the principles of federalism and the Tenth Amendment. Consistent with those principles, we believe that states ought to retain jurisdiction over most criminal justice matters within their borders. This is how the Founders intended our system to function.”

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