Rand Paul Amendment Would Bar Prosecution of Medical Marijuana Patients


Comedy Central

Last month Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), together with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), introduced an amendment aimed at protecting medical marijuana users and suppliers from federal harassment. But as I noted at the time, it is not clear to what extent the amendment, which copies the language of a rider approved by the House of Representatives in May, would accomplish its goal. The problem is that it bars the Justice Department from trying to "prevent" states from "implementing" medical marijuana laws, which enforcing the federal ban on marijuana does not necessarily do. An amendment that Paul introduced yesterday seems more likely to hit the target:


  (a) State Medical Marijuana Laws.–Notwithstanding section 708 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 903) or any other provision of law (including regulations), a State may enact and implement a law that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical use.

  (b) Prohibition on Certain Prosecutions.–No prosecution may be commenced or maintained against any physician or patient for a violation of any Federal law (including regulations) that prohibits the conduct described in subsection (a) if the State in which the violation occurred has in effect a law described in subsection (a) before, on, or after the date on which the violation occurred.

As I read it, this amendment, which Paul attached to the otherwise silly Bring Jobs Home Act, directly bars prosecutions of patients and suppliers who comply with state laws allowing medical use (as the Kettle Falls Five in Washington, for example, apparently did). Hence the Justice Department could not argue that it was merely trying to enforce the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and that any impact on the implementation of state law was incidental. 

Even better, however, is the language of the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which simply declares that the CSA provisions dealing with marijuana "shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana." That bill, which was introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in April 2013 and had 28 cosponsors at last count, would effectively repeal federal prohibition in states that legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use. 

Addendum: Paul's amendment covers "any physician or patient," so it would apply to medical marijuana suppliers only if they were also patients (which is common).

[Thanks to Tom Angell for the tip.]