Sessions letter hangs like a cloud over state regulated cannabis

This week a letter written to Congress by Attorney General, Jeff Sessions Sessions was made publicly available on Scribd.

This letter requests that Congress revoke the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, added to the appropriations bill in 2014 to prohibit the Justice Department from expending federal funds to: (i) prohibit states, such as Washington and California, from implementing their own statutory schemes that authorize and regulate the cultivation, distribution, and possession of medical marijuana; and (i) prosecute organizations and individuals who are operating pursuant to the laws of such states. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has provided a sense of security and legitimacy throughout the industry, such that entrepreneurs are more willing to apply for and operate marijuana licenses, financiers are more willing to provide start-up capital, property owners have less fear of civil forfeiture and as a result are more willing to lease land and building to marijuana licensees - in essence it has contributed to a more robust marijuana industry.

Sessions letter clearly implores Congress to permit the Justice Department to fully enforce the Controlled Substances Act. Session's letter was written on May 1, 2017, just before the FY 2017 stop-gap spending bill was voted on and signed into law. Fortunately, the amendment was included in the approved spending bill as Section 537; but, when signing the bill into law, President Trump included a signing statement objecting to Section 537. That bill is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year, September 30.

Today, the full House heard the proposed Department of Justice budget, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions was conspicuously absent. In his stead, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein stated:

“[F]rom a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug. It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I. And therefore we have this conflict.” He also concluded that the Department of Justice is “responsible for enforcing the law. It’s illegal, and that is the federal policy with regards to marijuana.”

As such, one can expect that the Attorney General's office will again seek to refute the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment come September.


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