By Steve Elliott Hemp News 

Legislators on Wednesday passed three amendments to prohibit the DEA and U.S. Department of Justice from undermining state marijuana laws, as part of the U.S. House of Representatives' consideration of the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. A fourth amendment failed. The House also passed an amendment Tuesday night ending the DEA’s controversial bulk data collection program. It also passed three amendments cutting $23 million from the DEA’s budget, and shifted it to fighting child abuse, processing rape test kits, reducing the deficit, and paying for body cameras on police officers to reduce law enforcement abuses. 

“We made incredible progress today through passage of amendments that remove the threat of federal interference from state hemp and medical marijuana laws," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). "Congress showed more support today than ever before, making this the latest victory in a quiet revolution underway across America to reform and modernize our marijuana laws.

“This follows the narrow defeat of my Veterans Equal Access Amendment to the House MilCon-VA appropriations bill and passage in Senate Appropriations Committee of a similar amendment," Rep. Blumenauer said. "Action today demonstrates the forward momentum on this issue in Congress.

“I was disappointed to see Congressman McClintock’s broader amendment narrowly fail," Blumenauer said. "Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska should be free to move forward with their voter approved adult-use marijuana programs also free of the threat of federal interference. I look forward to continuing to work toward this goal.”

“The federal government should never come between patients and their medicine,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). “Passage of this amendment brings us one step closer to providing relief for those suffering from multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, cancer, HIV/AIDS and other medical conditions.”

“There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The more the DEA blocks sensible reforms the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny.”

“The Rohrabacher-Farr medical cannabis amendment offers crucial protection for medical cannabis patients and the people that provide them with access to much needed medicine,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “Having reaffirmed the federal government’s commitment to not interfere with state medical cannabis programs it’s now time to move forward and create a framework for federal and state cooperation in medical cannabis by passing the CARERS Act."

“With the recent addition of Texas, the vast majority of the country is now living in a state with at least some legal use of medical cannabis,” said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs director for ASA. “This vote shows the growing recognition that the only responsible course of action is for the federal government to leave state medical cannabis programs alone and let them provide their citizens with this much needed medical option.”

“Last year, Congress made history with the first-ever federal protections for medical marijuana caregivers and patients, and NCIA is happy to see that progress continue,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “This is an issue with overwhelming bipartisan support throughout the nation, and it’s good to see that the House recognizes that it should respect the will of the American people in this way.”

“We’re disappointed that some Members of Congress don’t think the principles of respect for state policies and voter mandates should be consistently applied, but we’re grateful to Rep. McClintock, Polis, and their co-sponsors for standing up for fairness,” Smith said. “We’ve very proud of the work that NCIA and our allies have done to educate policymakers about the critical need for federal marijuana policy reform, and we’ll build on this toward even greater success in the future.”

“Even Congress is now acknowledging the failures of the drug war and of the DEA and its invasive methods,” said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “Conservatives believe states have the right to decide their own rules, libertarians understand prohibition infringes upon civil liberties, and liberals know the effect prohibition has had on racial minorities, families, and communities.”

Currently, 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have legalized marijuana for a variety of medicinal purposes – and an additional 16 states have passed laws to allow access to CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of marijuana that has proven uniquely effective in managing epileptic seizures that afflict children. Four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – have legalized marijuana like alcohol.

In 2016, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are expected to decide ballot initiatives on the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use. A slew of recent polls show that significant majorities of both Democrats and Republicans strongly believe that the decision of whether and how to regulate marijuana should be left up to the states.

A bipartisan amendment to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference passed 242-186, the biggest margin of victory for a Congressional marijuana vote ever recorded. It was offered by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Dina Titus (D-NV).

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment passed the U.S. House last year with strong bipartisan support. It made it into the final CJS spending bill signed into law by the President. Because it was attached to an annual spending bill it will expire later this year unless Congress renews it.

A second marijuana amendment by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) passed 297-130. It would protect state laws that allow the use of CBD oils, but leave most medical marijuana patients and their providers vulnerable to federal arrest and prosecution.

A third amendment by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) passed by 282-146. It would prohibit the DEA from undermining state laws allowing the industrial use of hemp. A similar amendment passed the House last year.

A fourth bipartisan amendment prohibiting the DEA and Justice Department from undermining state marijuana laws failed, 206-222. It was offered by Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

“Continued protection for medical marijuana patients is something most politicians now agree upon, and we can expect that states’ recreational marijuana laws will soon have the same level of protection against federal interference,” said Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.) of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

Three amendments cutting the DEA’s budget passed by voice vote last night. Rep. Ted Liew's (D-CA) amendment shifted $9 million from the DEA’s failed Cannabis Reduction and Eradication program to the VAWA Consolidated Youth Oriented Program ($4 million), Victims of Child Abuse Act ($3 million), and deficit reduction ($2 million). Rep. Steve Cohen’s (D-TN) amendment shifted $4 million from the DEA to a program to reduce the nation’s backlog in processing of rape test kits. Rep. Joaquin Castro’s (D-TX) amendment shifted $9 million from the DEA to body cameras for police officers to reduce police abuse.

Last night the House also adopted an amendment preventing DEA and DOJ from using federal funds to engage in bulk collection of Americans' communications records. It was offered by Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

"The DEA built the modern surveillance state," said Piper. “From spying on Americans to busting into people’s homes the DEA doesn’t fit in well in a free society and the time is now to reverse these harms.”

The amendments are part of a growing bipartisan effort to hold the DEA more accountable and reform U.S. drug policy.

“The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems,” said Piper. “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.”