Legislation / Politics

A medical marijuana plant grows inside a greenhouse of a Denver-area cultivation facility this past summer. (Photo: Trevor Hughes/USA TODAY)
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Mixed bag of results for marijuana in Congress

Dec 12, 2014

 

USA Today -   Legal marijuana gets a mixed bag — or should that be baggie? — of legislation in the new omnibus spending bill being considered by Congress.

On one hand, the bill bars the Justice Department from spending money in a way that interferes with states managing their medical marijuana programs. That ban would apply to the Drug Enforcement Administration. At the same time, the bill bars Washington, D.C., from taking further steps to permit the sale of recreational marijuana, despite overwhelming support from its voters.
 
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia permit some form of medical marijuana use by residents, and the spending bill requires federal prosecutors and law enforcement to leave alone patients and marijuana growers who are following their respective states' rules, said Tom Angell, chairman of the pro-legalization advocacy group Marijuana Majority. The bill specifically says that no money can be spent to prevent states "from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."
 
Similar proposals have failed repeatedly over the past decade, but legalization advocates see this year's impending success as evidence that Congress is listening to voters.
 
"Congressional leaders seem to have finally gotten the message that a supermajority of Americans wants states to be able to implement sensible marijuana reforms without federal interference," Angell said.
 
Angell said Congress' support for medical marijuana should embolden President Obama to change marijuana's classification. Marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, treated the same as heroin, LSD, peyote and ecstasy, and considered to have "no accepted medical use." Many voters disagree, having authorized the medical use of marijuana for tens of millions of Americans.
 
But legalization opponents say Congress' willingness to shut down the District of Columbia's recreational marijuana program before it even launched means there's room for hope. And Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, says legalization shouldn't be seen as a fait accompli since voters in Florida this fall rejected a medical marijuana plan.
 
Congressman Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, has been one of the loudest voices opposing legalization and sales in the District of Columbia. The district elects a city council and mayor, but Congress can override its laws, and Harris argues legalized marijuana programs don't do enough to reduce drug abuse, especially in teens.
 
The District of Columbia in the fall election joined Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in permitting recreational marijuana use, but Congress' action would halt the D.C. law.
 
"For now, the Harris rider is important on an even deeper level — it shows legalization advocates that we are far from out of the game. We have new political muscle that we intend to flex," Sabet said. "Legalization may sound alright to some people in theory, but in practice, a pot shop in your neighborhood run by Big Tobacco 2.0 is the last thing anyone would want. We will build off of this gain."
 
Angell said he's surprised Congress seems so willing to follow the will of state voters by protecting medical marijuana programs, while overriding the wishes of the voters in D.C. He said it's possible Congress is drawing a distinction between medical and recreational marijuana, or may just be continuing a longstanding practice of meddling in the District of Columbia because it can.
 
"The 'states' rights' mantra often espoused by Republicans in particular has usually not been extended to the District, as evidenced by past intrusive riders concerning not just marijuana but also issues like abortion and gun control," he said.
 

“If you choose to consume, please do so responsibly.” 

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