House Attempts to Restrain Federal Assault on State-Legal Marijuana

House Attempts to Restrain Federal Assault on State-Legal Marijuana

An amendment to a House bill that would limit the federal government’s ability to enforce federal marijuana laws and raid dispensaries in the 22 states in which medical marijuana is legal passed the Republican-controlled House last week in a 219-189 vote, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

The text of the amendment to Appropriations committee bill H.R. 4660 reads as follows:

None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), a lead sponsor of the amendment, said the vote represents a “generational and attitude” shift both in government and the public with regard to medical marijuana.

“States with medical marijuana laws are no longer the outliers; they are the majority. This vote shows that Congress is ready to rethink how we treat medical marijuana patients in this country,” he said in a statement.

The amendment was introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), who has co-sponsored it since 2007. In fact, the amendment apparently passed with somewhat bipartisan support; 49 Republicans joined 170 Democrats in voting to pass it, and it was co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Still, the Chronicle notes, the bill faces a tough battle in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where at least one senator, Dianne Feinstein of California, is not convinced the proposed legislation is a good idea.

“Federal law enforcement officials must have the ability to shut down marijuana dispensaries that fail to operate under strict medical marijuana guidelines,” she said in a statement explaining her position.

Sen. Feinstein may have nothing to worry about; reporting for Forbes, Jacob Sullum questions whether the bill would even work the way its co-sponsors intended:

If the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrests a patient in Colorado for growing marijuana and the U.S. attorney prosecutes him, that does not, strictly speaking, ‘prevent’ that state from ‘implementing’ its law decriminalizing cultivation of cannabis for medical use. The DEA and the U.S. attorney are enforcing the federal ban on marijuana; they are not compelling Colorado to punish behavior its voters have decided to no longer treat as a crime.

The bill’s own co-sponsor reportedly acknowledged in a Friday telebriefing that the amendment does leave some “wiggle room” for the Justice Department.

“This isn’t a finely written policy yet,” Rep. Farr said. “This is a statement of congressional intent that the DEA should back off on these issues. We will have to continue to reconcile state policy with federal policy.”