Earlier today, Congress passed a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill, and in the process it approved a provision promising to keep federal law enforcement’s hands off of state-legal medical marijuana operations.
How big of a deal is this? Media interpretations are mixed.
In the L.A. Times, reporter Evan Halper says the provision “effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.” Halper quotes Bill Piper, a lobbyist with the Drug Policy Alliance, who boldly declares, “The war on medical marijuana is over.”
But as previously reported, the provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, was first approved in December of last year. This rider bans the use of Department of Justice funds to enforce federal drug laws in states that have legalized medical weed.
Amendment co-author Sam Farr, a Democrat representing California’s Central Coast, posted the following message about the provision after it passed in the House of Representatives:
States with medical marijuana laws are no longer the outliers; they are the majority. This vote showed that Congress is ready to rethink how we treat medical marijuana patients in this country. This amendment gives states the right to determine their own laws for medical marijuana use; free of federal intervention. It also gives patients comfort knowing they will have safe access to the medical care legal in their state without the fear of federal prosecution.
Of course, folks in the medical marijuana field have been burned before. Cultivators and dispensary operators were lulled into a false sense of security in the early days of the Obama administration when former Attorney General Eric Holder declared that the Justice Department would cease raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that were following state laws. Ultimately, though, Drug War hardliners like former U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag went about business as usual, raiding Northstone Organics, a model pot farm in Mendocino County, threatening local officials and forcing hundreds of law-abiding dispensaries out of business.
The feds even tried to get around the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment this year. Despite the clear language of the bill, the DEA argued, in a leaked memo, that the amendment only prevented them from going after states, not individuals or businesses. Outraged, the bill’s sponsors called for an investigation, and in October a federal judge issued what the Washington Post called a scathing decision, in which he ruled that the DEA’s interpretation “defies language and logic” and “tortures the plain meaning of the statute.”
So, to continue the Drug War analogy, the generals may keep declaring truces, but the soldiers still want to fight.
The reauthorization of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment at least takes away some of their weapons.