Congressional Medical Marijuana Amendment Introduced Later Today Would Stop DOJ from Interfering in State Laws Advocates complain that aggressive prosecutions and enforcement actions continue despite August 2013 DOJ memo

May 28, 2014 | Kris Hermes

Washington, D.C. -- A bipartisan group of Congressional House members are expected to introduce an amendment later today to the Commerce, Science & Justice (CJS) appropriations bill, which would stop the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using funds to interfere in the implementation of medical marijuana laws. The amendment, which is currently sponsored by 10 House members, 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats, comes after advocates have voiced concern over ongoing, aggressive enforcement actions despite a purported shift in DOJ policy marked by a guidance memo issued in August 2013. A House floor vote on the amendment is expected to occur tomorrow morning.

Medical marijuana advocates are also pointing to comments made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at a House Appropriations Committee hearing last month as evidence that Congress can and should take action to reform federal law on this issue. "I think that our administration would be glad to work with Congress," said Holder in response to Committee questions on reforming the country's marijuana laws.

"Attorney General Holder is extending an olive branch to Congress on the issue of medical marijuana and its incumbent on the House to respond," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has been working with sponsors to pass the amendment. "According to recent polls, well over 80 percent of Americans support medical marijuana and would certainly back the kind of reform vote currently being considered by Congress."

The CJS appropriations amendment is currently sponsored by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Paul Broun (R-GA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Steve Stockman (R-TX), and Barbara Lee (D-CA). Last month, the House voted 195-222 on a different appropriations amendment addressing medical marijuana issues facing veterans. Notably, the amendment failed by a narrow margin, and was supported by an unprecedented number of Congressional members.

The CJS appropriations amendment comes as news has widely circulated about an ongoing federal prosecution, aggressively targeting individual patients in Washington State who were growing a modest amount of medical marijuana for their own personal use. The Kettle Falls 5, as the media is referring to them, claim they were in full compliance with state law, yet the DOJ is seeking 10-year mandatory minimum to life sentences for each defendant. One of the defendants, Larry Harvey, 70, if convicted, is not expected to survive his prison sentence.

Last year, ASA issued a report on the social and economic costs of the DOJ's enforcement efforts in medical marijuana states. The report found that since taking office, President Obama has spent more than $300 million on the type of enforcement actions he claims not to be interested in. Over the past couple of years, the Obama Administration has been throwing medical marijuana patients and providers in prison at unprecedented rates.

In 2012, medical marijuana patient and cultivator Richard Flor died in custody while serving a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence. Since then, the DOJ has aggressively sought mandatory minimum sentences for several medical marijuana defendants, including Montana cultivator Chris Williams (5 years), Michigan cultivators Jerry Duval (10 years), his son Jeremy Duval (5 years), and John Marcinkewciz (5 years), and California dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky (10 years). All of these defendants maintained that they were compliant with state law, but were prevented from using such a defense in federal court.

Further information:
CJS Amendment text: https://american-safe-access.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/CJS_Amedment_May_2014.pdf

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