What is the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment?

Kelly Weimert

May 11th, 2017

Policy, Top News

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Given marijuana’s mixed legality across the United States — with some states legalizing it medicinally, some recreationally, a few across the board, and some not legalizing it at all — there exists a lot of uncertainty among cannabis businesses and individual users as to which practices they can utilize without the risk of prosecution.

To reduce the legal haze around marijuana, in 2014 congress passed what’s known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which is a law that prohibits the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with state medical marijuana laws.

The fight to pass this amendment dates back to 2003 when the bill was first introduced, and finally ended ten years later as legalization — particularly for medical reasons — gained increased bipartisan support with the majority of the country being in favor of legalization.

Still, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment has received its fair share of pushback from the DOJ since being passed, which initially interpreted the amendment to mean that they still had the authority to prosecute individuals and organizations, even when they’re acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

The DOJ then went on to attempt to prosecute marijuana growers who were growing legally in their state. Fortunately, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the DOJ’s interpretation of the law is wrong and these legal growers cannot be prosecuted under the law as it stands.

That said, the protection for individual users and cannabis businesses the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment provides continues to be threatened largely due to newly-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ stance on marijuana use.

Sessions has notoriously compared marijuana to heroin in terms of its detriment to life, stating: “I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

And while even cursory research into the impact of marijuana on health will show that Sessions’ comparison is unfounded — there have been zero deaths by cannabis overdose in the history of its use while heroin killed 12,989 Americans in a single year — he remains one of the primary authorities on the matter.

Given that Sessions is holding firm on his antiquated marijuana stance, it’s more critical than ever that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment remains in effect. And because it has yet to be signed into permanent law, the amendment must be renewed each year, creating increased uncertainty in an already foggy landscape of the future of marijuana legalization.

Fortunately for cannabis businesses and individual users, the amendment was renewed in April and will remain in effect until September of this year. And while this should undoubtedly be considered a win for medical marijuana advocates, in the larger scheme of things, it’s only a short-term win that is expected to be continually threatened by the Trump administration’s stance on marijuana policy as a whole.

Bottom Line for Medical Marijuana Patients and Cannabis Businesses

Due to the current administration’s position on marijuana, cannabis advocates will need to continue to fight for increased access to the drug, even for medical purposes. But it’s a fight for which they have a lot of backing.

Few political issues have as much bipartisanship support as the legalization of medical cannabis, and this support has continued to rise with each passing year and is showing no signs of slowing down. Additionally, for a country that’s divided on so many ideological issues at present, America remains refreshingly unified on the matter as more and more people across the political spectrum voice support for cannabis legalization.

So, while the future of marijuana reform remains uncertain, the renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment last month indicates that progress is safe for another season, and the growing support for legalization in the face of Sessions’ opposition is promising for both individual users and cannabis businesses.

Kelly Weimert

About Kelly Weimert

Kelly is a full-time freelance writer based in Austin, TX. A happy hybrid of geek and hippie, when she's not nestled into her couch crankin' out crafty prose with her miscreant Chihuahua, you can find her frolicking outside to keep her sanity in check.

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