In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May.
The hemp industry hasn't responded yet, but medical marijuana supporters are pleased.
"This is great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), one of the co-authors of the House measure. "This amendment protects patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people. Patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution. And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients."
The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."
"We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community," said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy group that has been championing the measure for years. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for a change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws."
"Congressional leaders seem to have finally gotten the message that a supermajority of Americans wants states to be able to implement sensible marijuana reforms without federal interference," said Tom Angell, executive director of Marijuana Majority. "This legislation greatly reduces the chances that costly and senseless DEA raids will come between seriously ill patients and the doctor-recommended medicine they need for relief."
If the omnibus budget bill is approved, the spending curb could well halt several pending federal criminal cases, including the case of the Kettle Falls Five, who are being prosecuted in Washington, a state where not only medical but recreational marijuana is legal, for growing medical marijuana within state guidelines. It would also severely cramp the style of the DEA, which has conducted hundreds of over-the-top aggressive raids in medical marijuana states. And it could mark an end to numerous civil asset forfeiture cases brought by US Attorneys in California against dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Orange County.
"We now have a solid foundation from which to establish a more comprehensive public health policy at the federal level," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're excited to be able to work with a Congress that is more in line with the will of the people, and more determined to roll up its sleeves and get things done on the issue of medical marijuana."
Before it becomes law, the budget bill must now be approved by the full House and Senate and then signed into law by President Obama. Those congressional votes are expected later this week, and there is little likelihood the bill will be defeated or that President Obama would seek to veto it.