Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Federal Ceasefire Holds in War on Medical Marijuana

By David Downs
Wed, Dec 16, 2015 at 10:33 AM

Congress is set to extend a year-old cease-fire in the federal war on medical marijuana — sending a strong message to prosecutors to keep their hands off legal pot.

Activists in Washington, DC report that lawmakers have included a renewal of the historic Rohrabacher-Farr amendment of December 2014 in this year’s must-pass spending bill, which was unveiled last night.

The spending rider continues to bar the Department of Justice from using any federal funds to interfere in any way with state medical marijuana laws. Its authors say DOJ employees cannot investigate, arrest, or prosecute anyone complying with medical marijuana, CBD, or hemp laws in more than 35 states.


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“The renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment suggests most members of Congress are ready to end the federal government’s war on medical marijuana,” stated Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “There’s a growing sentiment that the Justice Department should not be using taxpayer dollars to arrest and prosecute people who are following their states’ medical marijuana laws.”

Marijuana Majority chair Tom Angell stated: “While marijuana was once treated like a dangerous third-rail by most elected officials, the inclusion of these provisions demonstrates how it has now become a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics and policymaking. Polls show that a growing majority of voters support ending prohibition, and lawmakers can’t help but listen.”

In April, DOJ officials told the media they believed Rohrabacher-Farr was more narrow in scope, and only prevented them from continuing to threaten state officials with jail time for promulgating medical pot regulations.

But a federal judge in October ruled that Rohrabacher-Farr means what it says it means: "leave state-legal medical marijuana activity alone."

“This amendment has teeth, but only as long as it keeps getting renewed,” Capecchi stated.

"This is the second year in a row that Congress is using the appropriations process to tell federal agents and prosecutors not to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. But so far the Department of Justice has taken the absurd position that these spending provisions don't actually prevent them from going after patients and providers who operate legally under state policies,” stated Angell. “The intent of Congress is clear, and so is the will of the American people. Since the Justice Department is being so stubborn, the next step should be for lawmakers to pass permanent standalone legislation that goes beyond these temporary spending riders. Then the DEA will have a much harder time undermining Congress and voters."

The rider is a mixed bag. Republicans happily jettisoned their belief in states rights and local control to continue a separate rider preventing the legalized District of Columbia from regulating the growth and sale of adult-use cannabis. Pot arrests in DC have dive-bombed from a high of 2,346 in 2011 to a total of seven as of November 6.

"Marijuana smokers are not going to attack and kill a cop,” DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier told The Daily Beast. “They just want to get a bag of chips and relax. Alcohol is a much bigger problem.”

“Marijuana is now legal for adults in the District of Columbia, and it needs to be treated like a legal product,” Capecchi stated. “It is irrational to prohibit D.C. officials from establishing a regulatory system to control the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. By renewing the Harris Amendment, Congress is posing a real threat to public health and safety in our nation’s capital.”

Other shortcomings in the spending bill: a rider to allow veterans to get a cannabis recommendation from their Veteran's Affairs doctor failed; and a rider allowing banks to take cannabis industry deposits without federal punishment failed.

Next year, lawmakers will work again on the CARERS Act to fully protect medical marijuana rights in the U.S., and Senator Bernie Sanders will work to fully end cannabis prohibition through his new bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act.

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