Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 Amends Previous Legislation

In 2016, the life of former representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was altered forever after attending a presentation at a marijuana festival and trade show in San Bernardino, California.

He had an uninterrupted and untroubled night’s sleep for the first time in 2 years after discovering cannabis-infused wax to relieve his arthritis pain. Rohrabacher put the wax on his arm, and it did not create a high, but it eased his pain and facilitated his sleep for the full night.

He was transformed into the only leading conservative voice on reconstructing marijuana laws in the US Congress. Rohrabacher became the first sitting US congressperson in at least several decades to acknowledge using cannabis while in office. He advocated and sponsored the federal legislative proposal that would have prevented the US Department of Justice from interfering with state-level medicinal marijuana operations.

As of February 2021, 39 states, plus Washington, DC, have legalized medicinal marijuana. Five states have legalized the medicinal use of cannabidiol oil only: Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. Additionally, medicinal marijuana has been legalized in 13 countries, including Australia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, and Poland.1

Medicinal marijuana is legal in Rohrabacher’s home state of California, but it remains illegal for all uses under federal law. Marijuana is placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a designation reserved for the most dangerous drugs, including heroin. Congress and the Drug Enforcement Administration consider marijuana not only to have a high potential for abuse but also to lack an accepted medical use. This conclusion made by the federal authorities is at odds with the limited but evolving body of research implying that marijuana can effectively treat chronic pain, muscle stiffness, and other ailments.2

On February 7, 2017, Rohrabacher proposed the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act to the US House of Representatives for a third time. This legislation is intended to protect individuals from being prosecuted under the federal Controlled Substances Act if they followed their own state laws regarding marijuana use. This act is viewed as Rohrabacher’s most acclaimed legislative action.2 He was joined by 46 congressional cosponsors. The legislation prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to block in-state legal medicinal cannabis programs. Rohrabacher described an amendment facilitating a profit of $6 billion for the medical cannabis industry.2 He emphasized that the money the amendment could produce could lead to more funding for the country and save time and money on putting individuals in jail for possession of cannabis, and that it could also be used for judges, law enforcement, and police. Resources could instead be applied to challenges within communities for better environmental safety and social issues, Rohrabacher argued.

In addition, he had pushed for a federal policy preventing the US Department of Justice from interfering with state laws permitting use of medical marijuana. In April 2016, Rohrabacher expressed endorsement for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, an initiative headed for the ballot to legalize cannabis use in California.

As he emphasized in interviews, children with epilepsy, older individuals experiencing lack of appetite or pain, and even those working to end opioid addictions can benefit from marijuana. Rohrabacher, who lost his bid for reelection in 2018, has said that cannabis is a “way out” for individuals but not an invitation for an opioid addiction, and that he continues to hope adults will be given easier access to it.2


1. Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, HR 975, 115th Cong (2017). AccessedJuly11,2022.

2. TheRespectStateMarijuanaLawsActwas introducedthisweekinU.S. Congress. Tucker Arensberg PC. February 13, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2022.

About the Authors

Abbey M. Natour is a BS degree candidate in kinesiology/exercise science at the University of Kentucky College of Education in Lexington.

Joseph L. Fink III, JD, DSC (Hon), BSPharm, FAPhA, is professor emeritus of pharmacy law and policy at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy in Lexington.

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