In an Historic Vote, Congress Takes Unprecedented Step of Ending Federal-State Conflict on Medical Marijuana Advocates say restriction on enforcement will end federal prosecutions, asset forfeiture litigation, and imprisonment of patients
December 13, 2014 | Kris Hermes
Washington, DC -- With today's US Senate vote, both houses of Congress have now approved an omnibus spending bill, which includes a measure prohibiting the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Patient advocates argue, with concurrence from law enforcement, that this historic measure, if signed into law, will dramatically impact DOJ enforcement, including ending federal medical marijuana raids, arrests, criminal prosecutions, and civil asset forfeiture lawsuits, as well as providing prisoners with a way to petition for their release.
"This is truly a long-fought victory for medical marijuana patients who have lived in fear of being caught in the crossfire of conflicting state and federal laws for nearly two decades," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana group that has pursued passage of the measure for years. "But this is also a victory for taxpayers because of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved on unnecessary and harmful enforcement." According to a report issued last year by ASA, the Obama Administration has spent nearly $80 million annually on medical marijuana enforcement, more than $200,000 per day.
One of the starkest examples of the abusive enforcement practices of the DOJ is the widely-watched case of the Kettle Falls Five, a family of patients who were growing medical marijuana for their own personal use in accordance with Washington State law. The eldest family member, Larry Harvey, 70, traveled on two occasions to Washington, D.C. to lobby for passage of the measure. Harvey, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and his co-defendants are scheduled to go to trial in February, but attorneys are expected to now file motions to dismiss.
The measure will not only impact the prosecution of the Kettle Falls Five and several other pending federal criminal cases, it will also curtail the enforcement practices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the notorious federal agency responsible for hundreds of aggressive, paramilitary-style raids over the years. According to advocates, numerous civil asset forfeiture cases being litigated by U.S. Attorneys in California against licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco will also be derailed if the measure is signed into law.
For the past three years, US Attorneys have threatened elected officials, property owners, and dispensary operators with legal action in more than half of the states that adopted medical marijuana laws. Threats made by the DOJ against lawmakers have both suspended and completely stopped implementation in at least six medical marijuana states. US Attorneys sent letters threatening criminal prosecution and property seizure to hundreds of landlords in California and Colorado, resulting in the closure of more than 600 lawful medical marijuana businesses.
This marks the seventh time Congress has tried to restrict DOJ enforcement of medical marijuana. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law and, if he does, the DOJ measure will remain in effect for the rest of the fiscal year, until September 30, 2015.
In the meantime, advocates will continue lobbying for a more comprehensive public health policy on medical marijuana, which they say is embodied in HR 689, the "States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act." HR 689 aims to reclassify marijuana for medical use, increase therapeutic research, and restrict DOJ enforcement on a more permanent basis. "Now that we are in a 'ceasefire,' patients are ready to work with Congress on comprehensive medical marijuana legislation," continued Sherer. "Passage of this measure has shown that Congress is ready to roll up its sleeves on this issue, and we're ready to work together to bring about broader and more lasting change for the millions of Americans who rely on medical marijuana treatments."
Amendment restricting DOJ enforcement in medical marijuana states