The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to block the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states where the drug is legal.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment – added to the 2018 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill – bars the DOJ from using funds to target states “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The amendment received widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans despite calls from Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month to vote down the rider.
Speaking with The Hill Thursday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) – who intends to offer the amendment to the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill – argued that the American public has been clear in its support for medical cannabis.
“The number of states that are legalizing at least the medical use of cannabis is overwhelming now,” Rohrabacher said. “Public opinion has always spoken on this issue.”
“I think people will listen to their own constituents rather than Sessions.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), another supporter of the amendment, similarly criticized the DOJ for attempting to target medical marijuana users following state law.
“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,” Leahy said. “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.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who opposed the amendment, defended the DOJ’s stance and instead called upon congress to address the issue “within the Judiciary Committee.”
“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 his private letter to Congress last month, Sessions called upon lawmakers to reject the amendment “in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”
“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,” Sessions wrote.