Senate Panel Votes To Prevent DEA Interference In State Medical Marijuana Laws

By Steve Elliot Hemp News 

In yet another huge victory for marijuana reform, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The vote was 20 - 10. 

The amendment, offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) to the Senate version of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, prohibits the Justice Department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state laws that allow the cultivation, distribution, and use of marijuana for medical purposes. It mirrors the amendment sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) that was approved 242-186 last week in the House of Representatives. Passage of identical amendments in the House and Senate typically indicates it will be included in the final spending bill Congress sends to President Obama. The House also approved amendments to protect state industrial hemp laws and to reduce the DEA’s budget by shifting money away from marijuana eradication and toward better uses. "We very narrowly lost a vote that would have stopped DoJ from interfering with all state marijuana laws, not just those that are limited to medical marijuana," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

This is the second time in as many months that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a marijuana policy reform measure. On May 21, the committee voted to allow doctors within the Veterans Affairs system to formally recommend medical marijuana to veterans. Now that the medical marijuana language is in both the House and Senate versions of the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations legislation, it's almost certain it will end up in the final conference committee bill that gets worked out by leadership of both chambers, according to Angell.

"As a bit of background: Last year we only had the language in the House version and it still ended up being included in the final 'CRomnibus'bill signed into law by President Obama in December," Angell said. “With so many votes going our way these days, each new one gets less and less exciting," Angell said. "But that’s a good problem to have. "We’re entering an era where marijuana reform is accepted as mainstream and not seen as controversial, and that’s exactly where we want to be," Angell said. "With this vote, it’s now clear that a growing bipartisan group of lawmakers in both chambers are ready to get the federal government out of the way of the effective implementation of state marijuana laws.

"These temporary funding restrictions certainly help us to demonstrate political momentum, but the next step should be passing legislation to permanently change federal law,” Angell said. “This is another resounding victory for medical marijuana patients, their families, and their care providers," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Congress is making it clear that the Department of Justice and the DEA have no business interfering in state medical marijuana laws. “The goal of this amendment is to provide deference to the states, making it strikingly similar to the operative provisions of the CARERS Act," Riffle said. "Unfortunately, that bipartisan bill has languished for months in the Senate Judiciary Committee because Chairman Chuck Grassley has refused to hold hearings on it.

The Senate spoke loudly and clearly today. Hopefully Sen. Grassley was listening.” “The success of the Mikulski medical cannabis amendment shows a growing acknowledgement that the federal government should not interfere with state medical cannabis programs,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “The passage of the Mikulski medical cannabis amendment also shows that Senate support exists for the central elements of the CARERS Act. The CARERS Act would make the protections in Mikulski medical cannabis amendment permanent and create a much needed framework for research and federal and state cooperation.”

“Today the Senate is joining the House of Representatives and recognizing 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,” said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs director for ASA. “Along the recent vote to end the gag order on VA doctors recommending medical cannabis we’re seeing undeniable Senate support for the policy changes in the CARERS act.” “What we’re witnessing today are the death throes of the federal government’s war on medical marijuana,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “Last week the House sent a resounding message to the DEA and DOJ – stop the interference and let states legalize medical marijuana. Today, the Senate echoed that message.” - See more at: