Could Arizona marijuana dispensaries lose federal protection from prosecution?

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The uncertainty surrounds a budget amendment called Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, which prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting marijuana sellers and patients who abide by the laws in their state. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The uncertainty surrounds a budget amendment called Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, which prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting marijuana sellers and patients who abide by the laws in their state. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an outspoken critic of cannabis, asked Congress to eliminate the Rohrabacher protections in a May letter. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an outspoken critic of cannabis, asked Congress to eliminate the Rohrabacher protections in a May letter. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
“The Department of Justice could in theory come through and start seizing property, start arresting people who are dispensing,” said Demitri Downing of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association of Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) “The Department of Justice could in theory come through and start seizing property, start arresting people who are dispensing,” said Demitri Downing of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association of Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
MITA estimates the marijuana industry generates between $400 million and $800 million in economic impact for Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) MITA estimates the marijuana industry generates between $400 million and $800 million in economic impact for Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Medical marijuana activists in Arizona and elsewhere are closely watching Congress this month to see if lawmakers will extend federal protections for dispensaries and patients.

Trade groups and supporters say that if certain protections are allowed to expire, state-approved medical marijuana businesses across the country could be at risk of federal raids.

The uncertainty surrounds a budget amendment called Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, which prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting marijuana sellers and patients who abide by the laws in their state.

The amendment has been in place since 2014, but it is set to expire Dec. 22 unless Congress extends it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an outspoken critic of cannabis, asked Congress to eliminate the Rohrabacher protections in a May letter.

“If the Rohrabacher amendment gets removed and is not continued forward, Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice could reignite the drug war that existed before and come after medical marijuana and adult use marijuana states,” said Demitri Downing of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association of Arizona.

“The Department of Justice could in theory come through and start seizing property, start arresting people who are dispensing,” he said.

MITA estimates the marijuana industry generates between $400 million and $800 million in economic impact for Arizona.

“If the federal government were to come in here and suddenly try to quash what's happening in the medical marijuana program, at that point, it would just go back into the alleys and streets. And we wouldn't be recognizing the tax dollars that we otherwise see,” he said.

Downing said a widespread crackdown on medical marijuana seems unlikely given its popularity in national polls, but he and others in the industry are encouraging patients to take action.

“They need to contact their congressman. Contact [U.S. Rep. Ruben] Gallego’s office. Contact [Sen. Jeff] Flake’s office. Contact [Sen. John] McCain's office,” he said.

“They need to email them and make them aware of the need to protect patient rights, to protect the industry in Arizona.”

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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