By: Judith Cassel
The medical marijuana industry cannot only survive, but thrive in the upcoming political environment.
One of the most important upcoming political events for the medical marijuana industry is the Congressional vote on the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment (“Amendment”). Congress is set to vote on the Amendment this December. This Amendment is a renewable amendment to a federal spending bill which began de-funding prosecutorial actions against medical marijuana operators in 2014. The Amendment withholds funding from the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecuting cases against medical marijuana operators in states where marijuana is legal, so long as the marijuana operators are in compliance with state law. Note, this Amendment specifically addresses medical marijuana and not marijuana use in general which should provide additional comfort to those forming cannabis businesses in Pennsylvania under the newly enacted Medical Marijuana Act.
Some in the budding marijuana industry are worried about Donald Trump’s pick, Jeff Sessions, for U.S. Attorney General. But, a balance to this worry is found in the co-sponsor of the Amendment, Dana Rohrabacher (R-California). Representative Rohrabacher is a die-hard supporter of Trump, and a user of medical marijuana to treat arthritis. Rohrabacher is considered one of the leading conservative voices on legalizing marijuana. According to an interview on Friday with Marijuana Business Daily, Representative Rohrabacher responded to concerns over Trump’s choice of Sessions for U.S. Attorney General. “This president has made clear that he believes in states’ rights approach to marijuana, [a]nd if the president is in favor of states’ rights approach to marijuana, I am certain that Jeff Sessions, being a man of high integrity, will not be undermining his president’s position and will be enforcing what Trump wants.” Rohrabacher also stated that “Sessions is a constitutionalist, and as such Sessions’ approach to running the U.S. Department of Justice will be to leave local law enforcement [of marijuana] to the states.” Rohrabacher is on the short list for Secretary of State which, if selected, may mean Rohrabacher will be in a position to give input on the President Elect’s marijuana policies. Rohrabacher assured marijuana advocates, should he leave his position in Congress to fill the Secretary of State seat, that other Republicans in the House, such as Thomas Massie of Kentucky, will continue to “lead the show” for marijuana legalization.
What has Trump said in terms of marijuana? Trump said, in a rally in Reno, that he believes “100 percent” in medical marijuana because he “knows people that are very, very sick and medical marijuana really helped them.” Trump also said at that same rally that he believes recreational use should be left “up to the states.”
Also comforting is the fact that the election did not just usher in Trump as President, but resulted in eight major cannabis wins. There are now nine areas, in both blue and red states, that have completely decriminalized cannabis use (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State and Washington D.C). There are also a total of 28 states which have legalized medical marijuana with the most recent being Ohio’s passage of a legalization bill in June, and Florida and Arkansas with referendums on the November 8, 2016 ballots. Again, this demonstrates that states that voted for Trump also voted to legalize medical marijuana. According to a Gallup poll conducted in October of this year, 60% of Americans believe that both medical and recreational use of marijuana should be legalized. And according to the Quinnipiac University poll published in Politico in June of this year, 89% of Americans support the legalization of medical marijuana.
In addition to the Amendment, strong public support, and positive election results, potential medical marijuana organizations in Pennsylvania should be reassured by how the U.S. Congress is chipping away at other road blocks to medical marijuana use. For instance, Congress passed a bill this summer which provided veterans easier access to medical marijuana. This bill was attached to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill and was introduced by Senators Steve Daines and Jeff Merkley, a Republican and Democrat respectively. According to the Military Times, the bill passed with bi-partisan support (233-189 in the house with 57 Republicans joining all but 5 democrats and 89-8 in the Senate).
Additionally, as medical marijuana research and patient bases expand, medical marijuana is increasingly seen as an effective alternative treatment to harsh prescription drugs. Finally, closing down the legalized medical cannabis industry would open the door to foreign drug cartels, close-off alternative treatments to solve the opioid epidemic, and reduced tax revenue opportunities – none of which are attractive options for a first-term, controversial president.