The federal budget approved this week by the U.S. House and Senate prevents money from being spent to hinder Arkansas’ effort to allow patients access to medical marijuana.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 prohibits the Department of Justice from stopping various states from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Arkansas is specifically named in the law.
David Couch, sponsor of the voter-approved Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, said future patients should feel some reassurance from Congress about the change.
State officials have been working on laws and rules for growing and providing the drug. Some marijuana sales could occur before January, with production ramping up around that time, according to an estimate from the Department of Finance and Administration.
“It doesn’t legalize [marijuana] from a federal level,” Couch said of the budget law. “It just gives people who are interested in the program comfort to know the federal government is handcuffed from spending money to investigate or prosecute anyone who is in compliance with the state medical marijuana program.”
Couch said the budget restrictions are not new, but are especially important given the role that memos from the Justice Department under President Barack Obama play in governing state medical marijuana programs.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was chosen by President Donald Trump to lead the Justice Department, has said he was reviewing the memos that gave states flexibility with marijuana laws.
During an April 2016 Senate drug hearing, Sessions said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
But in February this year, he told reporters: “I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana, but states, they can pass the