Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that serve them in accordance with state laws will continue to be shielded from arrest and prosecution by federal officials, at least until September 30, under government-wide spending legislation signed by President Trump on Friday.
But unlike when Trump signed an extension of the provision last May, this time he did not include a signing statement reserving the right to ignore it.
The rider, which prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws, first became part of federal law in 2014 and has since been continued with annual funding bills and short-term extensions enacted in the intervening years.
Last May, when Trump signed a bill to fund the government known as the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017,” he specifically called out the medical marijuana provision as potentially unduly limiting his authority as president to enforce federal laws:
“Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
But in signing this year’s funding bill, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018,” the president issued no such statement.
While the lack of a signing statement reserving the right to ignore the medical cannabis provision could be interpreted as a signal of the waning influence of marijuana opponents such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a simpler explanation might just be administrative disorganization.
In last year’s signing statement, Trump also singled out provisions concerning Guantanamo detainees, international agreements and access to documents by inspectors general. This year’s appropriations bill contained identical or similar provisions, and the president didn’t call them out in a signing statement this time, either.
And with respect to the medical marijuana rider, the president’s signing statement last year did not lead to a large-scale crackdown of enforcement actions against state-legal cannabis businesses in contravention of Congress’s intent.
So the significance or potential impact of the lack of a signing statement on marijuana this year is unclear.
But with Sessions’s rescission in January of Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed state to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference, medical cannabis patients and the businesses that serve them will take all the good news they can get.
And that the president did not issue a signing statement reserving the right to send federal agents to arrest them even though Congress said not to provides at least some measure of good news.
Looking ahead, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is now pushing to include the medical cannabis rider in Fiscal Year 2019 legislation that Congress is beginning to consider. There is also a growing call to extend the protections to cover broader state laws allowing recreational marijuana use and sales.