Top U.S. Attorney in Montana Issues Statement on Medical Marijuana
January 10, 2018
One day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama era Cole Memo, directing federal prosecutors to focus resources away from cannabis related offenses that followed existing state laws, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Kurt Alme issued a statement indicating the impact this has on Montanans who own medical marijuana dispensaries and those who use medical marijuana.
Alme told the Courier that Sessions' announcement would not directly affect Montana, as other laws still exist that protect medical marijuana. Clarifying, he added, “As long as individuals are compliant with state laws on medical marijuana, then the Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment to the Budget Act prevents the use of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana cases, as long as the individuals are in strict compliance with the state’s laws.” The Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment was first introduced to Congress in 2001, but finally passed as a budget amendment in 2014. The Amendment sought to restrict the federal government’s interference with medical marijuana laws popping up in western states.
This clarified an earlier statement in which the U.S. Attorney said, “...the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that govern all federal prosecution decisions. The United States Attorney’s Office in Montana is guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions -- focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our citizens and communities.”
The statement was widely taken to mean that cases in Montana would focus resources against criminal activity that “create the greatest safety threats to our citizens and communities,” and not towards marijuana cases in general.
Medical marijuana was legalized in 2004 under a state ballot initiative that required over 60 percent of voters to approve the measure. A 2011 measure to repeal that initiative passed both Republican controlled legislatures to be vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Regulatory measures since that time almost effectively killed medical marijuana access through regulatory limitations on dispensaries and providers. In 2016, the Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative I-182 was passed again with more than 60 percent of voter approval, and the limitations were lifted. State officials have reported that there are currently over 22,000 medical marijuana patients in the state and over 610 providers since the approval of I-182.