If ever one feels the need to dole out criticisms, Congress is reliably low-hanging fruit. But just as a broken clock is right twice a day, once in a blue moon Congress does something that is not a complete affront to liberty.
Having Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General in the era of Trump has had civil liberty advocates on edge from the get-go. As one of the last remaining champions of marijuana prohibition, Sessions would erase all progress made toward decriminalization over the last several years—if given the chance.
Luckily, Congress has taken precautionary measures to ensure that the Trump appointee cannot get his regulatory claws on medical marijuana legislation passed by 29 states.
Congress is drawing a line in the sand on the issue of marijuana legalization. Saved by the Amendment
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was included in the newly revealed Congressional budget, would block any federal impediment on state laws that legalize the use of medical marijuana by barring any federal dollars from being spent on enforcing national drug laws.
Slipped into the budget bill that would keep the government sufficiently funded until September, the text of the amendment clarifies that states that have legalized medical marijuana are safe from federal intrusion, specifying:
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana
Nothing about this amendment is particularly out of the ordinary since medical marijuana has been subtly protected in budget bills since 2014. However, this year’s inclusion represents more than a symbolic gesture, given Attorney General Sessions’ outdated views on marijuana legalization.
Sessions had the audacity to call pot “slightly” less terrible than heroine. In a rare turn of events Congress, the governing body known for having little to no respect for American civil liberties is drawing a line in the sand on the issue of marijuana legalization, at least for medical purposes.
Sessions’ track record on the issue has done little to assure opponents of the drug war that states will continue to make strides towards allowing patients to seek and use marijuana for medical purposes.
As recently as February, Sessions made comments expressing his dissatisfaction with states exerting their sovereign right to make laws in the best interests of their constituents. Clarifying his stance he stated:
“States, they can pass the laws they choose, I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
Demonstrating just how out of touch he is on the issue and denying medical research to the contrary Sessions also had the audacity to call pot “slightly” less terrible than heroine.
As more states have legalized pot, opiate use is down nationwide. While this statement would be outlandishly false regardless, to make say such things while an opiate epidemic is plaguing the country is not only ignorant, it’s especially dangerous considering Sessions’ powerful position when it comes to enforcing federal drug laws.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
In fact, as more states have legalized marijuana, opiate usage is down nationwide. But apparently, Sessions does not see this as a positive development even though heroine is estimated to have been the cause of over 13,000 deaths in America in 2016.
Fortunately, this move represents Congress’ reluctance to roll back any victories seen on the marijuana legalization front, at least medically-speaking, which, albeit small, is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, this amendment only protects medical marijuana laws, meaning Sessions could potentially make a power grab and go after the eight states that have legalized pot on a recreational level, nine including the nation’s capital, although doing so would be wildly unpopular and out of line with an American public that now largely skews in favor of marijuana legalization.
While Sessions is surely the personification of the uneducated reefer madness era, he has yet to act on the issue aside from veiled threats that rhetorically resurrect an archaic sentiment.
Brittany Hunter is an associate editor at FEE. Brittany studied political science at Utah Valley University with a minor in Constitutional studies.