A Senate committee passed an amendment on Thursday to protect legal medical marijuana, contravening a request in May from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the 2018 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill preventing federal funds from being used to block state-level implementation of medical marijuana legalization, the Hill reports.
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The amendment applies to 46 out of 50 states, excepting Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. It also applies to the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.
Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), who offered the amendment, argued that "The federal government can't investigate everything and shouldn't, and I don't want them pursuing medical marijuana patients who are following state law."
"We have more important things for the Department of Justice to do than tracking down doctors or epileptics using medical marijuana legally in their state," he said.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) opposed the bill, arguing that the Justice Department should not be discouraged from enforcing the law.
"If Congress wants to tell the Department of Justice to stop enforcing the medical marijuana laws, then it should change the authorization within the Judiciary Committee, not through an appropriations provision," he said.
The committee's decision flies in the face of the request of Shelby's former Alabama delegation colleague, Jeff Sessions, who personally requested in a letter in May that Congress undo Obama-era federal protections for medical marijuana laws.
"I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime," Sessions wrote. "The department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R, Calif.) plans to offer a similar amendment to the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.