The 85 words seemed an afterthought when Congress hurriedly crammed them into a massive budget bill late in the Obama administration, as if lawmakers wanted to acknowledge that the nation’s outlook on marijuana had changed, but not make a big deal of it, the Chicago Tribune reports. Almost three years later, a multibillion-dollar industry and the freedom of millions to openly partake in its products without fear of federal prosecution hinge on that budget clause. Congress may throw it overboard amid pressure from an attorney general who views marijuana as a dangerous menace. What has become known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prohibits the Justice Department from spending even a cent to prosecute medical marijuana users and sellers operating legally under state laws. Since its passage, it has largely shut down efforts by federal drug enforcement officials to interfere with otherwise legal sales of marijuana in 29 states and the District of Columbia that have passed legalization measures.
The prospect that the ban on prosecutions could expire has spread anxiety across the marijuana industry. In California, the freedom of an attorney facing jail time for advising a marijuana operation hangs in the balance. Pot sellers and patients wonder if federal raids are next. “It is shocking to think that this is at risk,” said Sarah Trumble of Third Way, a centrist think tank that advocates easing federal restrictions on cannabis. “This would give the attorney general a blank check to go after medical marijuana. Without it, he might try, but it would be really hard for him.” In September, the House balked at preserving the amendment. The Senate has reaffirmed its support for the provision, but both houses must agree for the measure to remain in effect.