West Chester >> The U.S. Department of Justice decision to rescind Obama-era guidance on marijuana enforcement is facing bipartisan criticism from local lawmakers.
On Friday, local Congressman Ryan Costello announced he is circulating a letter to his colleagues that will be sent to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, expressing objections about Sessions’ directive issued Thursday. The directive would give federal prosecutors more authority to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where cannabis has been legalized in some form.
“States administering medical marijuana dispensaries pursuant to state law should be left alone by the U.S. Attorney General’s office,” Costello said. “I will continue to make this clear to the (Trump) Administration. Whether it’s industrial hemp for excellent nutrient management of agricultural soils, or marijuana medically prescribed for a patient with cancer or PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome), I think medicinal research and state regulations should be our guide, not outdated federal regulations.”
Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania is approved for use of PTSD. Under Pennsylvania law, patients with certain illnesses may legally access medical marijuana as part of their treatment regimen.
While many states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, the drug is still illegal under federal law, creating a conflict between federal and state law. Thursday’s announcement is a major decision that could have ramifications for every state.
Even Gov. Tom Wolf criticized the Trump Administration’s decision that essentially negates the Obama administration’s policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.
“Despite backwards moves by the Trump administration, I will continue to protect cancer patients, kids with epilepsy, veterans with PTSD and all Pennsylvanians seeking relief from legal medical marijuana,” Wolf said. “In Pennsylvania, we legalized medical marijuana in an overwhelming and bipartisan fashion, and we are months away from getting this medicine to patients that need it. The Trump Administration must put patients’ rights first, and I will not stand for backwards attacks on the progress made in Pennsylvania to provide medicine to those in need. We are evaluating the exact impact rescinding the directive could have on Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program but I will continue to do everything in my power to protect Pennsylvania patients.”
Responses from Senators on Capitol Hill came swiftly. At least one Senator, Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado, threatened to hold up judicial nominations until the decision was reversed. Another questioned how the Justice Department could justify allocating resources to go after legal users when there are other pressing issues to address. And at least one expressed hope that this action would push Congress to ultimately legalize cannabis.
Costello said he is concerned about the uncertainty of enforcement the directive creates in states all over the country.
“In 2016, Pennsylvania passed a law to allow patients facing certain illnesses to legally use medical marijuana, and I believe it is critically important the Commonwealth’s law and patients who benefit from it are protected,” Costello said.
In November, Costello signed onto a bipartisan letter that urged leadership in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to include protections for states that have passed a law that allows for the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. The letter explained the provision, which became law in 2014, has successfully protected patients, providers, and businesses against federal prosecution, so long as they act within the confines of their state’s medical marijuana laws. The protections apply to 46 states, including Pennsylvania.
Cosello is a cosponsor of the Veterans Equal Access Act, legislation that would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to allow VA health providers to provide feedback and recommendations about participating in the veteran’s state’s medical marijuana program.
Sessions’ announcement comes as patients in Pennsylvania are just months away from being able to purchase medical marijuana products.
However, federal law still makes marijuana distribution and possession illegal. The directive by Sessions now gives authority to federal prosecutors how they handle enforcement of the federal marijuana laws. The U.S. Justice Department during Obama’s tenure opted to let states set up medical marijuana laws and enforcement standards.
In 29 states and D.C., marijuana is legal in some form, including California where recreational use was officially legalized on New Year’s Day. In Colorado, marijuana is big business. The state reported over $1 billion in medical and recreational marijuana sales in both 2016 and 2017.