What Medical Marijuana Protections Exist?

medical marijuana protections - person holds bud with tweezers in a lab

On March 21st, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill. The spread of medical and recreational marijuana throughout our Nation put a heavy focus on this year’s appropriations bill. Medical marijuana protections have been a part of this bill since 2014, and the committee is adamant these protections are continuously approved. Even though there are already certain medical marijuana protections in place, these protections must consistently have bipartisan support.

Luckily, our representatives and federal government are beginning to listen to public opinion on legalizing marijuana. While the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment protects established state medical marijuana programs, recreational marijuana programs do not have the same protections. Either way, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment is a step in the right direction for Federal reform.

The History of Medical Marijuana Protections

Since the beginning of state medical marijuana programs, there has been a severe disconnect between state and federal laws. The confusion among patients, owners, state jurisdiction, and federal authority has caused a lack of efficiency within our governing bodies. While many representatives understand the importance of closing the gap between state and federal marijuana laws, others are still facing a learning curve. That's why it's an ongoing battle to keep medical marijuana protections in place.

Timeline of Medical Marijuana in the United States:

1970 – The Controlled Substances Act p. The CSA classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug with “no accepted medical use”.

1971 – Nixon refuses to legalize marijuana even after the Shafer Commission report recommended removing marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

1971 – Nixon declares war on drugs, “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”

1973 – The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was created.

1980 – Marinol, a synthetic version of THC, was approved by the FDA for cancer patients suffering from nausea and vomiting.

1986 – Anti-Drug Abuse Act creates stronger penalties for the possession and distribution of marijuana. This reform put cannabis on the same level as heroin.

1991 – The first medical marijuana revision passed on a state level. San Francisco passed an initiative to restore medical hemp preparations to the list of available medicines in California.

1993  American Medical Student Association endorses the rescheduling of marijuana and calls on the AG for action.

1996 – California is the first state to legalize medical marijuana, Proposition 215.

1998 – Alaska, Oregon, and Washington become the next states to legalize medical marijuana.

1999 – Marinol, a synthetic cannabinoid, was moved to a Schedule III drug to make it more accessible to patients.

2000 – Colorado and Nevada legalize medical marijuana.

2002 – Conant v. Walters rules that the federal government can’t revoke a physician’s license for recommending medical marijuana to their patients.

2003 – The House of Representatives rejects an amendment to stop federal raids on medical marijuana patients. Dana Rohrabacher and Maurice Hinchey sponsored this amendment.

2003 – United States Government successfully received the patent for the therapeutic use of “cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants”.

2005 – The DEA performs a massive drug operation and raids medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California.

2008 – The American College of Physicians speaks out for reform of medical marijuana classification.

2011 – The United States Attorney General’s Office sends threatening letters to states with legalized medical marijuana programs.

2014 – The first medical marijuana protections passed. Known as the Rohrabacher – Farr amendment. It stopped the Justice Department from using funds to attack legal medical marijuana programs.

2016 – DEA declines rescheduling marijuana, but allows for more research programs to study marijuana’s medical uses.

2018 – Jeff Session, United States Attorney General, put an end to the Cole Memo and Obama-Era marijuana policies. This reform allows for any AG throughout the nation to use whatever funds they would like towards marijuana enforcement.

The end of the Cole Memo is what brought us to where we are today. As shown above, the history of medical marijuana reform has been a rollercoaster. Not only are the state and federal governments not seeing eye to eye, but they are battling each other on constitutional rights. From the first medical marijuana protections, the cannabis industry has grown exponentially. Many states are well past medical marijuana and are moving into recreational marijuana programs. The federal government is remarkably behind on their legislation of marijuana. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment is the only thing keeping any medical marijuana protections at the federal level.

What Does the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment Do?

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment solely supports medical marijuana protections in legalized states. It prevents the Federal Justice Department from using any government funds to interfere with state medical marijuana programs. This reform keeps registered patients, legal business owners, and state departments from worrying about federal action against medical cannabis.

However, recreational marijuana programs have no protection under the Appropriations bill. While medical marijuana is the backbone for pushing legalization across the board, recreational marijuana is the future of the industry. Without protections at the federal level, we may begin to see a backlash from the DEA in states with retail marijuana programs.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment is the only federal law protecting the state’s rights to medical marijuana programs. Also known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which was the first federal medical marijuana protections passed back in 2014. The provisions attached to the 2019 Appropriations bill are the same medical marijuana protections established in 2014.

However, this is the first time that medical marijuana protections made it to the House Appropriations bill during committee. Not only does this show the momentum of marijuana reform, but it shows the bipartisan backing of medical marijuana programs.

What to Expect in the Future

Even though the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment did not bring significant change at the federal level, it does establish forward motion for national reform. Many people were worried about how the new administration would react to marijuana reform. The removal of the Cole Memo and other attempts to interfere in state programs caused a wide-spread panic in the industry. Seeing the federal government uphold medical marijuana protections, once again, is the support the cannabis industry needs. This stepping stone keeps the journey to federal legalization moving forward.

As the federal government continues to push for more distinguished marijuana reform, it’s safe to say we will start seeing drastic changes. If reforms like the Hemp Farming Act make its way to law, it will become more and more difficult to keep public opinion from pushing for federal legalization. The national banking system is also eagerly awaiting federal reform to legally take part in this growing industry. It is safe to say future laws will need to tackle the banking problem sooner rather than later.

Who knows, this administration may shock us all and finally bring the federal marijuana reform that our nation desperately needs. Don’t hold your breath, but there is indeed light at the end of this dark prohibition tunnel.

Stay informed on current and upcoming federal marijuana reform, here!