The medical marijuana industry has found itself in an insecure state recently thanks to long time prohibitionist and recently appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A provision called the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which has been active since the later part of the Obama Administration, protects the rights of states to institute their own medical marijuana laws, so long as problematic issues such as underage sales or interstate smuggling are not triggered. It essentially prevents the department of Justice from spending money on prosecuting medical marijuana users and the industry itself, so long as state law is being followed.
Tactics to Block Progress
In September the amendment was blocked by GOP leaders in the House who refused to allow the committee to vote on the issue. The Senate on the other hand has expressed continued support for the amendment, however both houses will need to agree in order for the measure to be approved. Sessions has been campaigning all year to take action against the marijuana industry, writing letters to Congress to plead his case. “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. He talked about the current opioid epidemic and how important it is to crack down on drugs.
Marijuana’s Effectiveness in Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
An important fact was omitted from his letter however. In states where medical marijuana is legal, opioid use and its associated deaths and hospitalizations is down from anywhere between 23 and 33 percent. Opioids are prescribed for a number of conditions that are associated to pain and many users have found that medical marijuana is a safer, healthier, non-addictive alternative that is more effective at treating the pain than the dangerous prescription drugs. Thousands of people die every year from prescription opioid use while there has never been a case of anyone dying from marijuana use. Medical marijuana appears to be the first plausible, safe remedy for the opioid epidemic according to all the proof documented by researchers across the country.
On top of his misleading stance on marijuana and the opioid epidemic, Sessions also did not appear to have a clear understanding of what the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was. He stated that lawmakers had passed legislation “that said no federal money could be used to bring federal law enforcement against people who are using marijuana in states where it had been either legalized or where it had been authorized for medicinal purposes.” The amendment, however, specifically refers to medical, not recreational marijuana, where it is legal in 29 states and District of Columbia. Users and the industry must adhere to state law and the amendment also states that if federal factors such as underage sales or smuggling is triggered, then federal law enforcement will step in.
An “Almost Obsession with Marijuana”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he referred to Sessions as having an “almost obsessions with marijuana.” He stated “I think the policy we had in place was a good one: Let the states experiment with the notion that again we have these 8 or 9 federal factors and if you trigger one of these 8 or 9 factors the feds are going to be coming in.”
For now, the amendment remains blocked with many lawmakers across the country working to remedy the issue and create legislation that will protect the industry and the millions across the country with life threatening and debilitating disorders that benefit from access to the plant.