The massive spending plan signed by President Donald Trump Friday includes language barring the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana programs in states where they are legal, defying Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions had made personal pleas to lawmakers not to renew the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using money allocated by Congress to prevent states from "implementing their own sate laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."
But the language was in the version approved by Congress, and signed by the president.
"Patients across the country will be relieved to hear that Congress has maintained the current policy of allowing states to make their own decisions on medical marijuana policy," said Matthew Schweich, executive director for the advocay group Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement to NBC. He added "It is imperative that Congress continue to include these temporary protections in the federal budget until comprehensive marijuana policy reforms are passed."
Sessions to End Policy That Let States Legalize Pot: Sources
Because the provision was originally approved in 2014 as a budgetary amendment, Congress must explicitly reauthorized it in each new fiscal year spending bill in order for it to remain in effect.
Sessions pleaded in a letter to congressional leaders not to include the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment in the appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018.
"I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime," Sessions wrote in a May 2017 letter obtained by MassRoots. "The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives."
Marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug and illegal under federal law. However, the Justice Department during the Obama administration had issued guidance — which Session revoked in January — directing federal prosecutors not to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that had legalized the substance.
Adding to the concerns of marijuana law advocates, when Trump signed the Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill, he issued a signing statement indicating he could undermine the policy.
"I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed," he wrote.
The move was contrary to statements then-candidate Trump made during the presidential campaign. He repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws if elected, and said that he supports medical cannabis "100 percent," going so far as to note that he personally knows people who have benefited from it, according to Politifact.
But while a bipartisan group of lawmakers support protecting states’ medical marijuana laws, the House GOP blocked an amendment on Wednesday that would have extended the same protections to state-legal recreational programs.
"While I’m glad that our medical marijuana protections are included, there is nothing to celebrate since Congress only maintained the status quo," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) in a statement. "These protections have been law since 2014. This matter should be settled once and for all. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans, across every party, strongly favor the right to use medical marijuana."
Marijuana is currently legal for medical or adult use in 28 states, accounting for more than 60 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), an advocacy group that lobbies for federal marijuana reform.