The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has a marijuana problem.
Late last year President Obama signed a budget bill that promised to gut funding for DEA efforts against otherwise legit medical marijuana enterprises in states like California. The DEA appears to be defying Congress, however:
It continues to prosecute folks it believes are operating outside federal law.
Federal lawmakers today responded with a slate of legislation, including language by two Southern California representatives, that would once again attempt to strangle the feds' ability to target patients and providers in medical marijuana states.
An amendment co-authored by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County passed 242-186. It would renew last year's law that seeks to protect weed providers in medical marijuana states from the DEA. Otherwise, the original bill expires this fall.
Another amendment that would recognize states' right to legitimize marijuana-derived cannabidiol (CBD) oil as medicine, but it would not protect the medicinal crowd from the DEA.
Yet another piece of legislation wants to protect hemp growers and sellers from federal drug agents.
A separate set of proposals approved today would strip the DEA of $23 million in funding. One, by South Bay U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, aims to pare $9 million from the DEA's Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. A spokesman for Lieu told us it was "a key first step" in securing legislation that would reform the agency.
Lieu ultimately wants to totally gut funding for marijuana eradication and suppression at the DEA. He says:
There is a growing, bipartisan consensus across the country that our marijuana policies must change. Despite the overwhelming support from scientists, doctors and people across the nation for lessening restrictions on marijuana, the DEA still spends millions of dollars each year on domestic cannabis eradication. In 2014 alone, the DEA arrested 6,310 people under its cannabis eradication program for growing marijuana plants. This is a ridiculous waste of precious federal resources, especially when multiple states and jurisdictions have already legalized marijuana. It is time for the federal government to stop making marijuana use or possession a federal crime.
One proposal that would have stripped DEA and Justice Department funding for medical marijuana enforcement failed.
Kevin Sabet, president of anti-cannabis group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), called it "a victory for our nation's kids."
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Pro-legalization groups were happy with the winning record in Congress today, however. Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, argued, "There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana."
The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems. There's a bipartisan consensus that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms, it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore.
The proposals would still have to be approved by the Senate and get President Obama's signature to become law.
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