The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has previously stated that its priority is not focused on prosecuting individuals who are in strict compliance with state laws, but on individuals presenting a threat to public safety, such as those supplying cannabis to minors, driving under the influence, etc.[1] This policy is thrown into a doubt with the Trump administration freeing prosecutors to more aggressively enforce federal law and rescinding prior federal guidance on marijuana enforcement. On January 4, 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum in which he called marijuana a dangerous drug and marijuana activities a serious crime.[2] The memorandum was issued to all U.S. Attorneys directing them to enforce the Controlled Substances Act. Despite this memorandum, it is unlikely that healthcare providers will be the primary target of heightened enforcement. Rather, enforcement actions are likely to focus on interstate cannabis transporters.[3]

In addition, since 2015, Congress has been enacting a medical cannabis rider (Sec. 538) prohibiting the use of federal funds in prosecuting individuals in compliance with state marijuana laws. For example, a case brought under Sec. 538 in a California District Court, U.S. of Am. v. Marin All. for Med. Marijuana, held that as long as Sec. 538 is in place, the DOJ can enforce federal controlled substances laws only against individuals and businesses if they are not in compliance with California law.[4]

In light of the Session’s memorandum, the rider (also knowns as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment) was the only federal law in the way of a potential enforcement of CSA on state-compliance marijuana and marijuana related businesses. On January 19, 2018, the rider expired and was not renewed. Does that mean federal prosecutors will go after state compliant businesses and healthcare providers working with or recommending medical marijuana? It’s not likely. First, federal prosecutors simply would not have enough law enforcement personnel to carry out the prosecutions.  In addition, several groups are working to bring the amendment back during the next budget hearings, such as:

  • Congresswoman Barbara Lee proposing “States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act” (HR 331)

  • Rep. Jared Polis’ bill “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” (HR 1841),

  • Blumenauer’s bill “Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act” (HR 1823); and “Safe and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE) of 2017” (HR 2215).

[1] U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, Memorandum for Selected United States Attorneys: Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana 1–2 (2009), a.k.a. Ogden Memo and 2013 Cole Memorandum announcing that the DOJ will not prioritize the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states with their own robust marijuana regulations and specified eight federal enforcement priorities in enforcement.

[2] U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, Memorandum for All United States Attorneys: Marijuana Enforcement

[3] Interview with Sessions 

[4] U.S. of Am. v. Marin All. for Med. Marijuana, 139 F. Supp. 3d 1039, 1040 (N.D. Cal. 2015), appeal dismissed (Apr. 12, 2016)