The legislation includes a provision that is intended to prevent the department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to arrest or prosecute patients, caregivers, and businesses acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
“Congress appears to be growing increasingly comfortable with states adopting their own marijuana policies,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “Unfortunately, spending prohibitions like these expire at the end of the fiscal year, so there is still a need for a long-term solution.“The time is right for Congress to adopt permanent legislation that protects individuals from federal enforcement if they are in compliance with state laws,” Capecchi said. “It is difficult to understand what they’re waiting for. The vast majority of U.S. voters oppose the federal government interfering in state marijuana laws, and there is now near-universal support for legalizing medical marijuana.”
The provision stems from an amendment originally sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and former Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was first approved by the House in May 2014. It was approved again by a larger margin in June 2015, then included in the continuing appropriations packages that have funded the federal government since October 2016.
In April 2015, a Justice Department spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the department did not interpret the amendment as affecting cases involving individuals or businesses, but merely “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.” In October 2015, a federal judge ruled that the department’s interpretation was inaccurate and that the provision prevents it from taking action against individuals who are acting in compliance with state laws.“Renewing protections for state medical marijuana policies is not just good public policy, it’s good politics,” said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The Republican-controlled Congress stuck to its 10th Amendment principles.
“It is protecting states’ rights to adopt medical marijuana laws by protecting individuals who comply with them from federal prosecution,” Murphy said. “It should welcome the opportunity to expand that protection to individuals complying with any state marijuana law, including those regulating marijuana for adult use.”
The spending package approved Thursday also includes a provision that prevents the District of Columbia from regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for adult use. It was originally introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) and approved in 2015, after District voters approved a ballot initiative to make possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older.
“It is irrational to prohibit D.C. officials from establishing a regulatory system to control the cultivation and distribution of marijuana,” Capecchi said. “Marijuana is legal for adults in D.C., and it needs to be treated like other products that are legal for adults. By renewing the Harris Amendment, Congress is preventing local officials from taking steps toward improving public health and safety in our nation’s capital.”