Ron Paul: Sessions's Efforts to Stop Medical Marijuana Use Defy Federalism

Attorney General Jeff Sessions not only violated the principles of federalism with his recent memorandum allowing federal prosecutors to resume prosecuting Americans in states with legalized medical or recreational marijuana. Sessions's reversion to an 80s war "just say no" policy also defies the will of Congress.

Every year since 2014, Congress has passed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. This amendment, named after its sponsors California Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican and Sam Farr, a Democrat (who is no longer in Congress), forbids the use of federal funds to prosecute individuals for using medical marijuana in states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

The Rohrabacher Amendment was part of the spending bill signed into law by President Trump last year. A similar amendment sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, was voice voted by the Senate Commerce Justice, Science Committee in 2017.

The Rohrabacher Amendment is one of the increasing rare items enjoying widespread bipartisan support This is hardly surprising, as a majority of Americans live in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Only 14 percent of Americans oppose such laws, according to a Yahoo/Marist College poll from April of last year.

The Rohrabacher Amendment not only reflects public opinion, it also upholds an important constitutional principle: states have the authority to decide for themselves what activities shall, and shall not, be criminalized within their borders.

The Rohrabacher Amendment also protects individuals' right to make their own decisions regarding medical treatments free from federal interference. Many Americans have used medical marijuana for conditions such as cancer and glaucoma.

Laura Torgerson, from Arizona, smells cannabis buds at the Green Pearl Organics dispensary on the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in California, January 1, 2018 in Desert Hot Springs, California. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty

There is no more justification for the federal government to deprive individuals of the option to use medical marijuana then there is for the federal government to force every America to purchase health insurance.

Medical marijuana can also serve as an effective pain reliever, making it a viable alternative to opioids. This may be why states that have legalized medical marijuana have fewer deaths related to opioid abuse. These states have also experienced a decrease in crime and black-market activity.

Since the Rohrabacher Amendment is a "rider" to the spending bills, it must be renewed every year. The amendment defunds the Justice Department from interfering with states that have implemented medical marijuana laws. Fortunately, the Rohrabacher Amendment remains in effect as it was extended in the short-term continuing resolution Congress passed in December.

Because of the funding rider, Jeff Sessions's "Justice Department" cannot yet begin throwing cancer patients in jail for actions protected by their state laws.

However, there are troubling signs that the Congressional leadership may try to drop Rohrabacher's amendment from a long-term budget deal. Sessions has written Congress requesting the original Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment that has been in place on every appropriations bill since 2014 not be extended.

This past year, House leadership blocked a vote on Rohrabacher when they considered a "minibus" spending bill in September.

Unfortunately, while President Trump endorsed the federalism approach to medical marijuana during the campaign, his signing statement accompanying last year's spending bill suggested he was open to reversing course on the issue. President Trump had not made a statement on medical marijuana since then, leaving the impression that he agrees with his Attorney General and has changed his often repeated campaign promises.

President Trump and the rest of the GOP would be foolish to stand with Sessions. Eliminating the Rohrabacher Amendment would expose the Republicans as "fair weather federalists,"'who only support state autonomy when the state policies conform to the GOP's agenda. This would cause the GOP to lose support of younger liberty-minded voters who expect their elected officials to consistently defend limited government and individual liberty.

Allowing states to decide whether or not to legalize medical marijuana is a case where the politically popular thing to do is also the right thing to do. President Trump and the Republican Congress should stand for federalism and liberty and preserve the Rohrabacher Amendment.

Ron Paul, a former congressman for Texas, is host of the Ron Paul Liberty Report and Chairman of Campaign for Liberty.