These days there seems to be a huge number of important Washington developments, making it challenging to keep track on an almost daily basis. There is the pending GOP tax bill, which heavily favors the rich at the expense of working families, and would be a disaster for GovGuam finances. These latest tax cuts also will trigger reductions to government health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Then there is the steady march of investigations into the Trump-Russia scandal that has already netted indictments of Trump's former campaign head, Paul Manafort, and his first White House national security advisor, Michael Flynn. And by all accounts, special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation is closing in on Trump's inner circle. Also blaring across the news is the expanding list of members of Congress resigning due to sexual harassment charges, just as Republicans rally behind an accused child molester as their choice for the next U.S. senator from Alabama. Also ranking up there is the very real possibility of a shutdown of the federal government before the end of this year, due to an impasse in Congress to agree on a budget plan.
Lost in the chaos
Lost to a great extent in this chaos is the prospect of a federal crackdown on medical marijuana. Such a crackdown would coincide with renewed efforts in the Guam Legislature, led by Sen. Dennis Rodriguez Jr., to finally enact into law regulations to authorize marijuana medical dispensaries. This would be the final step in realizing the mandate given overwhelmingly by Guam voters more than two years ago. In a referendum made possible by the efforts of then-Sens. Tina Muña Barnes and Aline Yamashita, voters approved the legalization of medicinal marijuana. All that effort would come to a grinding halt in the face of threatened federal prosecutions of both medical marijuana users as well as dispensaries.
Ever since Attorney General Jeff Sessions became head of the Justice Department, it has taken a stance of outright hostility against the legalization of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use. This new stance was cited by the Calvo administration earlier this year in withdrawing its initiative to legalize recreational marijuana here on Guam. The prospects of the Justice Department action against recreational marijuana have been steadily ramping up, with Sessions hinting just last month of an imminent crackdown on states that have legalized it.
What has held Sessions from taking a similar approach to medical marijuana has been the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment. Since 2014, this amendment has been tucked in to a series of spending bills to keep the government from shutting down in the face of congressional failure to enact an actual federal budget. Under the provisions of the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, the Justice Department is prohibited from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The amendment does not actually make medical marijuana legal under federal law, and it has to be renewed each year with the spending bills that keep the federal government open.
If Congress fails to pass the required spending bill and the government shuts down, then Rohrabacker-Farr amendment prohibitions would cease to exist.
Potential for crackdown
That's exactly what I believe might happen later this month given all the signs out of Washington. If that indeed happens, medical marijuana advocates are concerned this would be tantamount to giving Sessions a legal green light to direct federal prosecutors, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, to crack down on medical marijuana patients and providers. Sessions has for months been seeking removal on these legal restrictions on the Justice Department. In a letter to Congress, he stated, "I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." Previously as a U.S. senator, Sessions called marijuana legalization "a mistake" and stated that "good people don't smoke marijuana."
So if the last restrictions are lifted, and Sessions is free to pursue his personal inclinations, then it's not hard to imagine him launching a national crackdown on both recreational and medicinal marijuana, and clearly Sessions' reach also will extend to Guam.