States that have legalized medical marijuana could soon get an unwanted visit from the DEA. Yesterday, Congress stunned the cannabis industry by rejecting the only legal protection preventing Attorney General Jeff "good people don't smoke marijuana" Sessions from cracking down on those 30 states for violating federal cannabis prohibition.
Back in 2014, lawmakers passed an amendment to the federal budget to protect state-legalized medical marijuana industries and the patients they serve. The amendment prevented the DEA from spending a single penny on enforcing cannabis prohibition in those states. It didn't overturn federal cannabis prohibition or legalize medical marijuana, but it did tie the Department of Justice's hands by freezing their finances.
At the time, medical marijuana was legal in 21 states, a number that has grown to 30 since then. But they could all be shuttered soon because that amendment — which has to be renewed with every budget — was rejected yesterday by the House Rules Committee. That means the House can't include the rider in their final version of the federal budget.
If the budget passes without that rider, budtenders, dispensary owners, doctors recommending cannabis and even medical marijuana patients could face prosecution for their involvement in the industry. And not just for what they're doing right now. They could be charged with offences dating back to when they got involved in the state's cannabis industry.
And Attorney General Sessions might do just that since he's been itching to crackdown on those states. Since taking office, Sessions has ramped up anti-marijuana rhetoric in America. And last May, he asked Congress to drop the amendment so that he could unleash the DEA on medical marijuana states if he saw fit. His request was denied in July by the Senate Appropriations Committee, but it seems like his message resonated in the House.
The fight for the marijuana amendment isn't over yet though. The budget has yet to reach the Senate, where the rider could be re-inserted with support from Senators Cory Booker (D - NJ), Mike Lee (R - UT), Lisa Murkowski (R - AK), Rand Paul (R - KY), Bernie Sanders (D - VT) and others.
But even if it does get reinserted and passed, the amendment only buys patients, doctors and businesses a small window of relief before they have to start looking over their shoulders for DEA helicopters again. The reality is that the industry won't be safe until Congress listens to the 94 percent of Americans who support medical marijuana and changes the country's criminally outdated cannabis laws.