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GOP congressman: US turning into 'a sanctuary country' when it comes to marijuana

Rep. Francis Rooney R-Fla.) said the U.S. is turning into a "sanctuary country" when it comes to marijuana. Rooney pointed out that even though some states have voted to legalize marijuana, the drug still remains illegal under federal law. (Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) says the U.S. is turning into a "sanctuary country" because Congress just voted to prevent the Justice Department from prosecuting individuals  who sell marijuana in states that have already legalized the drug by defunding its efforts to go after those individuals.

Rooney, during an interview Friday with TheBlaze, explained that tucked away into the Republican's budget deal to fund the government through September is a provision that defunds the U.S. Department of Justice from being able to go after people who sell marijuana in any of the eight states that have voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. 

Washington state, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, and Alaska all have voted to legalize recreational marijuana. More than a dozen other states, including Rooney's home state of Florida, have voted to legalize medical marijuana, according to Governing magazine.

But, as Rooney pointed out, even though some states have voted to legalize marijuana, the drug still remains illegal under federal law. And federal law, Rooney said, "should pre-empt" state law.

"So I say they've just basically turned the country into a sanctuary nation, where we don't respect laws anymore and I don't think that's good," Rooney told TheBlaze. "Regardless what you feel about marijuana, we have to change the law if people want marijuana to be legalized."

Rooney's use of the term "sanctuary nation," of course, comes from "sanctuary cities" or "sanctuary states" — areas where the local government chooses not to enforce federal immigration law, making their cities and states a safe place for illegal immigrants to live, without as much fear of being deported.

Rooney decried sanctuary cities and states, saying that the U.S. is a nation of laws and that no one gets to decide which laws to enforce or not to enforce. But that's exactly what Congress has done by voting to approve the latest spending bill, which appropriates $1.07 trillion to fund the federal government through September.

Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions noted that the new spending bill will effectively prevent him from pursuing drug cases more vigorously, and enforcing federal marijuana laws where states have legalized it.

According to the bill, which Rooney voted against:

None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

This provision essentially gives states the authority to defy federal law based on the laws governing those states.

"I don't think that's the system of our constitution, nor the kind of values of law and order and respect for institutional procedures that we've had in our country," Rooney said. "So we're basically turning the whole country into a sanctuary country as far as marijuana goes."

The Florida congressman said that for anyone who wants marijuana to be legal, they should "change the federal law."

"Don't do this. This just undermines the rule of law in the United States," Rooney warned. In a sense, though, Congress did change the law.

While lawmakers didn't explicitly vote to make the sale or possession of marijuana legal in all 50 states, they did, however, in a roundabout way, give a handful of states the assurance that they have nothing to fear if federal law is not enforced.

This could be a slippery slope.

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