Lawmakers on Capitol Hill moved again in June to protect medical marijuana patients in states where the drug is legal.
The House of Representatives voted June 3 to continue a law that bars the Obama administration from undermining legal MMJ. Medicinal cannabis is now allowed under the laws of 36 states, but it remains illegal for any purpose under federal anti-drug statutes.
The vote was 242 to 186, a sign of the growing strength of the reform movement. But the bill won’t become law until it also passes the Senate and receives President Barack Obama’s signature.
Initial law expires this week
The same legislation passed those hurdles late last year, when it was first enacted as part of the yearly federal budget process. But the initial law will expire later this year, along with the budget, unless it is renewed in advance.
The amendment, which took effect early this year, bars the Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with medical pot in states where it’s legal. It was sponsored again by Reps. Dana Rohrbacher, Republican of California, and Sam Farr, Democrat of California.
“Our founding fathers didn’t want criminal justice to be handled by the federal government,” Rohrabacher said during debate June 3. “This is absolutely absurd that the federal government is going to mandate all these things even though the people of the states and many doctors would like to have the right to prescribe to their patients what they think will alleviate their suffering. This is a states’ rights issue. Our founding fathers didn’t want a police force that can bust down people’s doors. They wanted individual freedom.”
Feds prosecuting MMJ providers
The initial amendment has already run into trouble with the feds. DOJ officials, along with the DEA and federal prosecutors in western states, have claimed the right to continue criminal cases against big MMJ providers.
Rohrabacher and other sponsors of the amendment have refuted that claim, saying the legislation prohibits any interference. Lawmakers didn’t address that problem in debate over re-authorization, but they stressed that the law is intended to make life easier for legitimate patients and providers.
Prosecutors in California, Colorado, and other states where some form of weed is legal have targeted major providers in those places. They have seized legal property through civil forfeiture laws, shuttered shops that operated within state law, and tried to lock up prominent providers.
Opponents of the amendment insisted it would lead to full marijuana legalization, though they didn’t make much of a case for how that would be a bad thing. Rep. John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana, portrayed medicinal pot as a “big joke” and a front for legalization.
A competing amendment would have blocked federal authorities from intruding in recreational pot as well. But that effort, proposed by Reps. Jared Polis, Democrat of California, and Tom McClintock, Republican of California, failed by a narrow vote of 206 to 222.