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Medical marijuana enforcement on hold, for now, thanks to federal budget deal

Author: Marianne Goodland - January 23, 2018 - Updated: January 26, 2018

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Holli Brown holds her daughter, Sydni Yunek, as they explore a field of Charlotte’s Web cannabis during a tour the Realm of Caring farm Tuesday, October 29, 2013. Sydni, who is taking Charlotte’s Web oil to help stop her seizures, started on her first does of the oil just a few days before their tour. (The Gazette file photo)

The Congressional budget deal that re-opened the federal government after a brief shutdown had one bright light for the medical marijuana industry. According to Marijuana Business Daily, the deal extended a budget amendment that blocks the Justice Department from spending any money that would “interfere with state marijuana laws or businesses.”

The amendment is known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer. It started out in 2001 as an annual effort by Democratic U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York to prohibit the Justice Department from spending federal funds to enforce federal laws regarding medical marijuana.

The amendment finally became law in 2014 but with a caveat: it had to be renewed every fiscal year in order to stay in effect. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment has been a part of every continuing resolution passed by Congress in the past two years that keeps the federal government open.

The current federal budget dates back to 2015; Congress has passed seven continuing resolutions since 2016 to keep the government operating.

The extension of Rohrabacher-Bleumenauer provides additional protection for medical marijuana businesses but doesn’t apply to recreational marijuana, and it will have to be re-authorized with the next continuing resolution or with a budget, should Congress pass one.

The latest continuing resolution comes on the heels of a decision earlier this month by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind an Obama administration-era guideline known as the Cole Memo. That 2013 memo directed U.S. Attorneys to focus enforcement efforts on preventing marijuana distribution to minors, preventing criminal enterprises and cartels from engaging in illegal activity, and on public health.

However, Session’s order is believed to have little to no effect in Colorado. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said this month she believed the U.S. Attorney, Bob Troyer, would direct enforcement efforts on black and gray market marijuana, and not on marijuana businesses that abide by Colorado law.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.