US Senate Appropriations Committee Passes Federal “Get Out Of Jail Free Card” Amendment For State Legal Medical Cannabis Business

Recently the medical cannabis industry was re-issued their yearly metaphorical “get out of jail free card”. This card is not as wonderful as it may at first seem via this classic Monopoly metaphor, as it only strictly offers protection to medical cannabis businesses operating precisely within compliance of state law. This metaphorical card comes from the Federal Congress, and was specifically was offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in the form of an amendment to the 2017 Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies Appropriations Act (CJS). Sen. Mikulski believes “the DEA has enough to do keeping illegal drugs out of our country at the border, rather than interfering where a state has determined through an open process that it wants to do these sales.” This amendment was approved by the US Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 21-8 (~73%). This amendment is precisely aimed at stopping the Federal Government from interfering with states’ own medical cannabis programs and “[…]prevent(ing) any of them (44 states and territories listed specifically including Illinois) from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” The CJS provides funding to main sections of the Federal government including $29.2 billion in funding for the Department of Justice (DOJ), under which the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) exists. This amendment is also known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, after its House sponsors Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA).

This amendment has been included in the past two CSJ funding bills, which were both passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. This great track record leads most to believe this year will be no different, and this protection for medical cannabis businesses will remain in place. In a legal sense, currently this get out of jail free card has a yearly expiration date, and must be renewed every year as part of the funding bill.


The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment has already had its trial-by-fire last year, in the DOJ’s case against Fairfax-based MAMM (Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana), and its founder Lynette Shaw. In this case the DOJ lost on its own home turf in a Federal court case, in which the presiding Judge Breyer ruled “the plain reading of [Congressional law] forbids the Department of Justice from enforcing this injunction against MAMM to the extent that MAMM operates in compliance with state California law.”(3) The DOJ was forced to lay off Shaw and remove its injunction preventing MAMM from operating, a glimmering crystal clear win for the medical cannabis movement. Shaw was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, “We won the war…and I’m the first POW to be released.” going on to conclude that “the case is precedent-setting. A federal judge has ruled Congressional law means what it was intended to mean — the war on medical cannabis is over.”

While this measure may be a significant win for the medical cannabis movement, the war is not entirely over. By having a measure which must be renewed yearly, the movement is left susceptible to a change in the political landscape. Please lobby your state and federal congressional representatives to take permanent action to ensure the medical cannabis industry can flourish.

Do you think Federal Government will go a step further and pass more sweeping reform legislation like the CARERS Act? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!


Posted In: Cannabis Industry