US House votes to end funding for federal medical cannabis enforcement

Medical marijuana user Larry Harvey, Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Americans for Safe Access Executive Director Steph Sherer and Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., speak at a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.The US House of Representatives voted late Thursday night to cut off funding for federal medical cannabis raids, arrests, and prosecutions in states where it is legal. This is arguably the biggest victory yet in the contemporary fight for medical cannabis rights. The vote represents a significant turning point in federal policy and a major victory for Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the grassroots medical cannabis movement.

(Picture: ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer and "Kettle Falls 5" defendant Larry Harvey in front of the US Capitol for a press conference with four members of Congress)

By a vote of 219 to 189, the Republican-dominated House approved the bipartisan Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment to the Commerce, Science, and Justice (CJS) Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015. Forty nine Republicans and 179 Democrats voted in favor of the amendment. The CJS bill is the vehicle that funds the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The amendment says that the DOJ is prohibited from using any funds to prevent states from implementing laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical cannabis.

The implications for medical cannabis patients and providers are profound. If approved by the US Senate and signed by the President, the amended CJS Appropriations bill will prevent the DEA from using any of its 2015 budget to raid medical cannabis gardens and dispensaries in states where they are permitted. It will also stop the prosecution and imprisonment of medical cannabis defendantssuch as the “Kettle Falls 5,” a group of family and friend facing ten years to life in federal prison in Washington State right now. The amendment arguably means that the DOJ may even be prevented from spending money to keep current medical cannabis inmates in prison!

The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment was a bipartisan effort. It was co-sponsored by six Republicans and six Democrats, including Representatives 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), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Justin Amash (R-MI), and Dina Titus (D-NV).

ASA has been working on the campaign to cut off federal funding for medical cannabis enforcement for ten years. We have spent hundreds of hours in direct advocacy with lawmakers and their staff, contributed to hundreds of media stories on the effort, and mobilized thousands of patients and advocates to speak up on the issue. Our most recent effort was the successful Peace for Patients campaign, which included constituent visits at Congressional field offices nationwide. We also published the influential report “What’s the Cost?,” which helped define the financial and human cost of the Administration’s anti-medical cannabis crusade for media, lawmakers, and concerned citizens.

It took a long time to reach the tipping point, but our persistent work and the commitment of our members and allies paid off. We have fundamentally changed the conversation about medical cannabis in the United States, and momentum is on our side. I know that sometimes it seem like things will never change. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of ASA staff, members, and allies, real change has begun. Well done, everyone.

So now what? The US Senate will vote on a similar measure as early as this summer. The House and Senate version will then go to a Conference Committee, a normal legislative process in which lawmakers from both houses iron out differences between House and Senate bills. After approval by the committee, the full CJS Appropriations bill must be signed by the President. There is a good chance the bill will pass and be signed with the Rohrabacher/Farr Amendment included, but we have to stay vocal and involved to make sure. We have fired a shot across the bow of the shrinking opposition to medical cannabis in Congress. They are likely to redouble their effort to stop the amendment. We must do the same to finally make this reasonable and compassionate policy the law of the land.

Did you email or call Congress in support of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment? Did you participate in the Peace for Patients campaign? Have you made a donation to support ASA’s multi-year effort to get the amendment adopted? Thank you if you did. You are making a difference. If you did not do any of these things, take a minute to ask yourself why. Nothing changes in Washington, DC, just because it should; and no one is going to speak up for patients and providers if we do not. It only takes a little time and money to help change everything. ASA has shown we have the strategy and long-term commitment to help you make it happen. Will you join us in doing it?

I am looking forward to the time when every medical cannabis patient has safe, dignified, and legal access to their medicine. We took a giant leap towards that goal this week. I want to say thank you in advance for standing with ASA as we do the critical work necessary to reach our goal.