Monday, 08 January 2018 19:17

Sessions gives Republicans leverage in budget negotiations by ending marijuana protections Featured

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A recent report by New Frontier Data forecasts that tax revenues from legal marijuana sales were $559 million in 2017. A recent report by New Frontier Data forecasts that tax revenues from legal marijuana sales were $559 million in 2017. Adobe Stock Image

While United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era, federal protections for recreational marijuana businesses and users in states that have adopted legal cannabis legislation, that won’t affect states’ medical marijuana providers and users -- at least until Jan. 19.

Indications are that medical marijuana will be off the table when it comes to the Justice Department’s crackdown on cannabis. President Donald Trump went on the record in support of medical marijuana prior to the election, so it’s unlikely Sessions would act in a manner that could jeopardize his President’s reelection chances any further. But if Congress can’t come to an agreement to fund the government before Jan. 19, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment prohibiting the Justice Department from spending federal funds to interfere with states’ implementation and enforcement of medical cannabis laws will expire.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment must be renewed each fiscal year to remain in effect, and is usually done so through omnibus spending bills. It was most recently renewed in a stopgap spending bill on Dec. 22, which expires Jan. 19. So if Congress fails to pass a budget for the fiscal year or at least another stopgap spending bill to fund the government temporarily, medical marijuana providers and patients will no longer be protected by Rohrabacher-Farr and subject to federal prosecution.

Sessions is making sure the Justice Department is prepared for the opportunity to enforce federal cannabis law. He appointed 17 interim U.S. attorneys general just days prior to rescinding the protections for recreational cannabis providers and users. The 17 temporary appointees can serve for 120 days before Trump must nominate permanent U.S. attorneys and seek to have them confirmed by the Senate. Sessions has empowered all 94 U.S. attorneys to enforce cannabis law as they see fit.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado said he would block Trump's Justice Department judicial nominees until the decision is reversed. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a state where cannabis is legal to use by adults, insists that protecting states with legal cannabis legislation should be part of budget negotiations to avoid a government shutdown. If the government shuts down, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would continue to be funded, so raids of both recreational and medical marijuana providers would be a possibility. Even if Sessions doesn’t crackdown on cannabis, he’s given Republicans some leverage in negotiating a new budget to fund the government. Perhaps in exchange for continued protection for medical and recreational marijuana states, Trump will get his border wall funded.

Regardless, medical and recreational marijuana providers and users haven’t been this vulnerable since before Rohrabacher-Farr went into effect in December of 2014. If the bipartisan condemnation of Sessions’ decision is any indication of what’s to come, protecting cannabis markets, both medical and recreational, will be a top priority over the next week.

As of January 2017, recreational cannabis markets had created 123,000 full-time jobs in America, and a recent report by New Frontier Data forecasts that tax revenues from legal marijuana sales were $559 million in 2017. 


 

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