As most of the cannabis world knows by now, Jeff Sessions has rescinded the Cole Memo, put in place to tell the federal government to back off of cannabis in states that have deemed it medically or recreationally legal. It was a bold but not all that surprising move – Sessions has been very vocal about his hatred for weed.
While Sessions may have thought his move would bring allies out of the woodworks, that doesn’t appear to be happening. It’s rallying the troops, alright, but the ones fighting for marijuana, not against it.
Not only is the public outraged and annoyed, but politicians are as well. Republicans, Democrats, it doesn’t matter. Several have called out Sessions for everything – lying about interfering with states rights before his confirmation, being obsessed with a matter unworthy of obsession, and having no regard for those who use marijuana to restore a quality of life (to name a few.) Some of these politicians have funneled their outrage into a law.
The REFER Act
A bill was recently introduced that would protect cannabis in states that have legalized it. This bill, in part, would protect pot from “excessive federal enforcement” while barring the feds from spending money to “detain, prosecute, sentence, or initiate civil proceedings against any individual, business, or property, that is involved in cultivation, distribution, possession, dispensation, or use of cannabis.” This, of course, assumes that all the aforementioned is in compliance with state and local laws.
Representative Barbara Lee, a Democratic congresswoman from California, is the brains behind the law. It’s being called the “Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement and Regulations of Cannabis Act of 2018” or REFER for short (how long until it’s referred to as REEFER?).
Many are comparing the bill to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment (previously called the Rohrabacher-Farr), but with an extra twist. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment applies only to the medical industry; it protects medicinal weed from interference from Jeff Sessions and his merry men (i.e., the Justice Department). It is also a bill that requires review and renewal on a periodic basis. The REFER bill does not.
Instead, the REFER bill applies to both medical and recreational weed. It also protects the industry from interference by all federal agencies. And it’s a permanent fixture. Cannabis is here to stay; it may as well be too.
Protection for Legal States
While the bill would protect states that have legalized (29 states have some form of medical marijuana while 8 have legalized marijuana recreationally), it would do nothing for the states where marijuana remains entirely (or partly) illegal. In other words, it doesn’t change the Controlled Substances Act, but it does protect legal states from governmental overreach and abuse of power. States that legalize in the future will find protections too.
Dina Titus, a Democrat from New York, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. She went on record to say:
“It is time we expand the protections of Rohrabacher-Farr to ensure that no government agency targets marijuana companies and their partners in ancillary businesses. Taxpayer dollars should not be used to crackdown on law-abiding taxpayers operating legally in states.”
She brings up a good point – many taxpayers would much rather see our money go to things like the school system than to bust someone smoking a joint.
American Has Spoken
As reported previously, most Americans favor legalized weed (especially medically but they favor recreational too). Even some who are apprehensive about marijuana believe it should be legal based on either state’s rights or small government. Many politicians favor it too – pot is truly a bipartisan issue, something worth nothing in an era where political parties appear more divided than ever.
All of this means that Sessions is fighting a losing battle. His rescinding of the Cole Memo set a fire to the industry, but not the fire he’d imagined. It does leave some in the industry uneasy, but it also leaves us wondering whether he is – unwittingly – just blowing smoke.
Instead of prosecutors from legal states voicing their support and linking arms with Sessions as they go after big, bad weed, lawmakers have begun to fight back. New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Kentucky – yes, Kentucky! – have set legalization in motion. And Vermont passed a legalization bill, one that their governor has vowed to support.
As for the REFER act itself – who knows whether or not it will pass. Congress is slow and patience is a virtue. But the cannabis ball is rolling and Sessions is at a loss to stop it no matter how hard he tries.