While Jeff Sessions was failing to recall any encounters with Russian officials, I was fielding questions from clients as to whether any action will be taken at the federal level against state licensed marijuana businesses. As reported by MassRoots, Sessions is asking Congress not to renew a federal law that prevents the Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
These federal medical-marijuana protections, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, have been in place since 2014. Sessions argues that the amendment inhibits the DOJ’s authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act (the “CSA”). Sessions also wrongly asserts that we are in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and an uptick in violent crime in his attempt to justify a crack-down on state authorized marijuana businesses. The only drug epidemic afflicting this country involves opiates; and ironically, research has shown that opiate deaths and overdoses actually decrease in states that have legalized marijuana.
The Rohrbabacher-Farr amendment has wide bipartisan support in Congress and the overwhelming majority of Americans support marijuana legalization. Clearly, Session’s position is at odds with both science and popular political opinion. The question is, however, whether the Trump administration will follow Session’s lead on this issue or allow states to continue to implement their own marijuana laws unimpeded.
Both the Governor and Attorney General of Washington State have stated on numerous occasions that they will fight any efforts by the federal government to interfere with Washington State’s marijuana laws. Given the various scandals and political fights facing the Trump Administration, I can only hope that Sessions would not be allowed to pursue something as politically unpopular as going after legal marijuana businesses.
As more states continue to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, Sessions’ desired war on marijuana appears more and more politically unviable. In the near term, I think that the best that we can wish for as to federal enforcement of marijuana laws is for the status quo to remain. This means continued uncertainty in regard to banking, taxation, etc. Eventually, however, under a different administration, the federal government will likely align itself with the states and remove marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the CSA.
Here in Washington State, licensees should be vigilant in complying with all state and local laws and regulations and federal tax regulations. Even if the federal government maintains a hands-off approach with regard to enforcement of federal marijuana laws, there will continue to be heightened scrutiny on marijuana businesses in regard to compliance with any and all applicable laws and regulations.
For more information on the regulation of marijuana businesses in Washington State, please contact Heather Wolf.