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Congress Passes Amendments to End War on Cannabis

Photo Gracie Malley


Congress Passes Amendments to End War on Cannabis

Congress signaled its support for nationwide reform by voting in favor of several amendments that would prevent the Justice Department from interfering with states that have legalized marijuana. Three out four proposals, all intended to strip millions of dollars of funding from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), will now be considered for the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill.

Along with voting to eliminate the DEA’s controversial surveillance program, the House stood in support of numerous measures that would prevent the Department of Justice from spending funds to crack down on medical marijuana states, keep them from impeding the progress of states that have legalized industrial hemp and prohibit them from causing trouble for states that have legalized the possession and distribution of CBD oil.

In an attempt to dismantle the DEA’s bulk data program, Representatives Jared Polis of Colorado, Morgan Griffith of Virginia, David Schweikert of Arizona and Jerrold Nadler of New York submitted an amendment that would prevent the agency from using tax dollars to float this agenda. A voice vote carried out on Tuesday ensured the amendment made the congressional cut.

Cannabis advocacy groups are pleased with the House’s decision to remove the DEA’s budgetary powers. Some even suggest that these types of cuts will continue as long as the DEA continues to challenge the rest of the nation.

“Congress dealt a major blow to the DEA by ending their invasive and offensive bulk data collection programs and by cutting their budget,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, in a recent statement. “The more the DEA ignores common sense drug policy, the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny.”

House members voted on Wednesday in favor of reallocating $23 million of the DEA’s marijuana enforcement funds to programs pertaining to unsolved rape cases, victims of child abuse, as well as body cameras for state and local police departments. The DEA has angered federal lawmakers over the course of the past year, amidst reports of sexual misconduct and overzealous surveillance tactics. This amendment would substantially weaken the agency.

Lawmakers also voted to reapprove an amendment, which was attached to last year’s federal spending bill, to prevent the Justice Department, including the DEA, from spending funds to obstruct the progress of medical marijuana states. Sponsored by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr of California, the goal of the amendment is to allow states that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes to operate with the risk of federal prosecution.

“Our founding fathers didn’t want criminal justice to be handled by the federal government,” Rohrabacher said on Wednesday. “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 states’ rights issue. Our founding fathers didn’t want a police force that can bust down people’s doors. They wanted individual freedom.”

There are some concerns, however, that the amendment will do nothing to prohibit federal prosecutors from unleashing their wrath against the medical marijuana community. It certainly hasn’t stopped them thus far – medical marijuana patients and dispensaries have continued to be subjected to DEA raids.

Earlier this year, Rohrabacher and Farr sent a letter to then Attorney General Eric Holder in an attempt to get to the bottom of the Justice Department’s blatant disregard for the amendment.

The letter said, “the purpose of our amendment was to prevent the Department from wasting its limited law enforcement resources on prosecutions and asset forfeiture actions against medical marijuana patients and providers, including businesses that operate legally under state law.”

The two lawmakers suggested that Holder bring his department “back in compliance,” but no visible action was ever taken.

The House provided overwhelming support for a proposed amendment submitted by Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, which would prohibit the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after states that have legalized CBD oil, as well as those that have established programs to cultivate industrial hemp.

A fourth amendment, which would have forced the Justice Department to keep away from the recreational marijuana industry, was the only measure that failed to meet House approval.

Drug policy experts believe the latest vote by the House of Representatives not only indicates the downfall of the DEA, but also a substantial move towards federal pot reform.

“Now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it’s time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law,” said Tom Angell, a spokesperson with the Marijuana Majority. “That’s what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well. Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there’s absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the law books any longer.”

But, how much longer will it take to eradicate the misguided policies behind the war on weed? Representative Earl Blumenauer recently told C-SPAN that he believe the latest Congressional showing indicates the nationwide battle over marijuana will be over within five years.

What do you think of these amendments? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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