The days of jackbooted feds raiding legit medical marijuana operations are mostly a thing of the past under the omnibus federal spending bill signed by President Obama last night.
An amendment slipped into the bill denies funding for federal anti-pot raids of legit marijuana businesses in states where cannabis has been legalized for medical or recreational purposes. That would include nearly 32 states and the District of Columbia.
The addition to the $1.1 trillion spending bill, hammered out by the House and approved by the Senate last week, was written in part by a Southern California congressman.
The idea was mostly the brainchild of U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an otherwise conservative, Latino-challenged Republican from Huntington Beach.
His office explained the legislation:
The amendment would require the federal government to respect state sovereignty over medical marijuana, depriving the Department of Justice of taxpayers’ dollars to prevent states from carrying out their medical marijuana laws. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia are listed in the amendment as having legalized marijuana or its ingredients for medical purposes.
The congressman has argued that veterans who so bravely served our nation shouldn't have to fight federal authorities to get access to marijuana in order to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments.
In a statement, Rohrabacher called it a historic bill:
The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree.
Those committed to legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana were, of course, ecstatic. Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access:
This is truly a long-fought victory for medical marijuana patients who have lived in fear of being caught in the crossfire of conflicting state and federal laws for nearly two decades. But this is also a victory for taxpayers because of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved on unnecessary and harmful enforcement.
The organization estimates that nearly $80 million a year in American taxpayer money has been spent on anti-marijuana enforcement in states that have legalized pot in one way or another.
In 2012 federal authorities, with the blessing of the Los Angeles Police Department, raided all the downtown and Eagle Rock dispensaries it could find. And federal raids had long ruffled the feathers of Bay Area pot proponents. California legalized medical marijuana in 1996.
Bill Piper, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs:
States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It’s not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed.
We would expect the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcers to interpret the law as they see fit, however. What happens if a dispensary supplier is caught with tons of weed or a small stash of heroin on the side, for example?
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This isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card: We'll see how it plays out.
And the law expires in September. Rohrabacher's office says the provision "will likely be considered again next year for inclusion in the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill."
Let's hope so.