In a letter dated May 1 of this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions personally wrote to Congressional leaders urging them to ditch a provision in spending legislation that bars the Department of Justice from cracking down on state-legal medical marijuana.
That provision in appropriations legislation, sometimes referred to as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, prohibits the Department of Justice from using any of its funds to prevent states from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” As Ars has reported before, this provision was present in the appropriations bill covering fiscal year 2017 and has been around for years.
Sessions wants to make sure it’s not in appropriations legislation for 2018.
The Obama administration, too, wanted to ditch—or at least weaken—the provision. The Obama Justice Department tried to interpret the provision as protecting state governments, not necessarily individuals. But last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the provision does in fact protect state-legal medical marijuana growers, patients, and dispensaries.
In his letter, Sessions says the ruling allows a loophole for dangerous criminals to go unpunished if the provision is maintained. Going further, Sessions argues that because the country is “in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” the DOJ “must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
As the Post notes, Sessions appears to be deliberately conflating medical marijuana use with the opioid epidemic, which is historic and devastating. However, research suggests that medical marijuana availability actually decreases opioid overdoses and deaths.
Sessions goes on to provide a laundry list of potential risks of marijuana use, including cognitive impairments.
In an e-mail to the Post, John Hudak of the Brookings Institution characterized the letter’s arguments as a “scare tactic,” but suggested that it “could appeal to rank-and-file members or to committee chairs in Congress in ways that could threaten the future of this Amendment.”
However, there has been broad bipartisan support for the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in the past. And support among Americans for medical marijuana is at an all-time high, reaching as much as 94 percent in one poll.