Ever since President Trump took office, the cannabis industry has been holding its breath to see how the new administration would handle the burgeoning field. President Trump's previous statements about cannabis have been mixed, though he has generally recognized value in medical use and, during the campaign, stated he would leave cannabis to the states.
However, with the appointment of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, the industry grew concerned, understandably, as Sessions has long opposed legalized cannabis. On February 24, the administration's position was clarified, casting a potentially bleaker future for recreational cannabis. During a morning press conference, the administration's press secretary, Sean Spicer, offered some details on how President Trump's White House, and Sessions' Department of Justice, would approach cannabis.
I've said before that the President understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them. And that's one that Congress ... put in an appropriations bill saying the Department of Justice wouldn't be funded to go after those folks.
There is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana. And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of ... recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.
So I think there's a big difference between medical marijuana ... in accordance with the appropriations rider, have set forth a process to administer and regulate that usage, versus recreational marijuana. That's a very, very different subject.
This response indicates that, while respecting the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment to the 2014 appropriations bill, it may cast doubt on the continued validity of the 2013 and 2014 memoranda from then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
Legal framework: The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment
At the end of 2014, the U.S. federal government, facing a contentious budget debate, passed a massive multitrillion dollar appropriations bill containing the amendment which bars money budgeted for the Department of Justice from being used to prosecute individuals or companies in states where a legal medical cannabis program has been implemented.