Congress Passes Major Medical Marijuana Reform Before Holidays

Marguerite Arnold, Main Street

In a dramatic reaffirmation of a House vote earlier this year, House and Senate leaders reached an agreement last week on the major spending bill funding next year's federal government that also includes a measure to defund DEA interdiction in states where marijuana is legal under state law. In the Senate this summer, as this issue began to threaten other legislative matters, forward motion was temporarily halted by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) in an effort to force the White House to weigh in on the issue.

All forms of cannabis interdiction (for THC and CBD crops and product if not consumption) as well as hemp are affected by this historic victory for reform.

"The measure included in House-Senate budget compromise is truly historic," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans For Safe Access (ASA) the leading medical marijuana advocacy organization in the country. "Finally, Congress has said the status quo of aggressive federal enforcement against patients and their providers in medical marijuana states is no longer acceptable."

Hermes explained that the measure restricting DOJ funds for medical marijuana enforcement goes far beyond weak guidance memoranda from the Obama Administration and is a clear mandate from Congress: leave medical marijuana enforcement to local and state officials. If signed by the president, this measure will halt numerous criminal prosecutions and civil litigation in their tracks. It will also hopefully end the fear and intimidation experienced by medical marijuana patients, providers, doctors, and lawmakers alike."

The impact of this development cannot be overstated and will affect the majority of Americans living in the U.S. today. Not only does the DEA lose money for paramilitary-like SWAT team led drug interdiction on the street level, but it will also lose funding that allows lengthy and expensive legal prosecutions of those caught up in the net of changing times and laws.

This includes the so-called "Kettle Falls 5" - a family of medical users in Washington State now facing trial in February (with a newly appointed judge) and decade-long sentencing mandates for what was essentially a home grow operation for personal use.

This development will also derail federal prosecution of asset forfeiture cases now ongoing in California against state legal and licensed medical dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and Orange County. For years, licensed marijuana businesses have been routinely denied defense at trial when charged under federal law because of the Schedule I status of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in the early aughts (that included the vote of now pro medical use and retired Justice Stevens), there had been for over a decade a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said that the so-called "medical defense" for the violation of federal law was an invalid one.

That has now been essentially overturned by a funding battle that many advocates are heralding as a new day particularly for medical marijuana reform in Congress.

"We now have a solid foundation from which to establish a more comprehensive public health policy at the federal level," summed up Michael Liszewski, government affairs director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community. We expect this act to end the prosecution. In fact, the DEA has said this will prevent them from conducting any marijuana enforcement activity in the listed states. We don't think the amendment goes that far, but based on the legislative intent of the sponsors, it is clear that the DOJ can no longer use funds to arrest and prosecute against lawful state medical marijuana conduct."

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