Congress shouldn’t flip-flop on medical marijuana because of Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gestures as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about his role in the firing of James Comey, his Russian contacts during the campaign and his decision to recuse from an investigation into possible ties between Moscow and associates of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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In 2014, Congress approved a bipartisan amendment to a budget bill that prohibits the Justice Department from spending any money to stop states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Though medical marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, in practice this policy gives  the states authority to make the decision for themselves — which is a big step in the right direction and in line with public opinion. The Obama DOJ challenged the amendment, but it lost in court in 2016.

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The rule is named the RohrabacherFarr amendment after the two lawmakers who introduced it, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Democrat Rep. Sam Farr, both of California. Rohrabacher is the ban’s author, and he’d been trying to get a law like this on the books for a decade.

When it finally passed, The Los Angeles Times reports, he started calling judges hearing medical marijuana cases and telling them to throw the cases out of court. “I told one of them, ‘If you have in your courtroom a federal prosecutor who is now trying to convict someone for possession of medical marijuana, there is only one criminal in your courtroom, and that is the prosecutor,’” Rohrabacher recalled in a conversation with the Times.

The trouble now is Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t share Rohrabacher’s perspective. He’s been hounding Congress to repeal the amendment for months, even attempting to mislead lawmakers about medical marijuana’s impact on the opioid epidemic and violent crime.

And as the Times story notes, Sessions may be getting traction in the House:

The first big sign of trouble for pro-marijuana advocates came in September, when the House balked at preserving the amendment. GOP leaders refused to allow a vote on it in a committee chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who is no relation to Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, but is as fiercely anti-marijuana.

The Senate has already reaffirmed its support for the provision in an affront to its former colleague, the Sessions who runs the Justice Department. But both houses must agree for the measure to remain in effect.

The hedging in the House followed an aggressive lobbying campaign by the attorney general…

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It is incumbent on Rohrabacher and other House members to ensure this amendment is reaffirmed, because if Congress goes back on this now, the consequences would be dire.

It would deprive patients with cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain and other serious illnesses of an important medical option that for many works when nothing else will. It would shut down legitimate medical marijuana farms and businesses, upending families’ financial lives and perhaps even leading to jail time for this victimless “crime.” It could even exacerbate the opioid epidemic, as states in which medical marijuana is legal see markedly lower rates of opioid abuse and overdose.

If Congress wants to make any changes to federal law pertaining to medical marijuana, nixing the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment is not the way to go — unless, of course, it’s replaced by legalization of marijuana for medical use to end Sessions’ inhumane ambitions once and for all.

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