House Votes to Stop Feds From Interfering With State Marijuana Laws

By:  Jack Kenny
House Votes to Stop Feds From Interfering With State Marijuana Laws

The House of Representatives early Friday morning voted to halt federal law enforcement against medical marijuana in states that have legalized the practice.

By a vote of 219 to 189, the representatives amended an appropriations bill to forbid the Justice Department, which includes the Drug Enforcement Agency, from using federal funds to interfere with state laws that "authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."  Twenty-two states now permit medical use of the drug, which remains banned under federal law. 

The amendment was offered by Republican Dana Rohrabacher of California, one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana with the passage of its Compassionate Care Act in 1996. "Some people are suffering," Rohrabacher said during the House debate, "and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering, it is immoral for this government to get in the way."

"The conflicting nature of state and federal marijuana laws has created an untenable situation," Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer said. "It's time we take the federal government out of the equation so medical marijuana business owners operating under state law aren't living in constant fear of having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night."

President Obama said numerous times as a candidate for president that raiding medical marijuana centers was not a good use of Justice Department resources. Attorney General Eric Holder said early in the president's first term that the department had no plans to prosecute medical marijuana use where it is approved by state law. But federal raids at licensed dispensaries have continued in several states, including Washington and Colorado, where voters in 2012 approved legalization of even recreational marijuana use for adults. Federal prosecutors say they target activity that violates state as well as federal law, as in the selling of drugs to minors, the use of bogus prescriptions, or dispensing of marijuana away from an authorized site.  

"The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law, to the extent that people do that and try to use medical marijuana laws as a shield," Holder said in his March 2009 statement of administration policy. "Those are the organizations, the people, that we will target. And that is consistent with what the president said during the campaign."

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