Legislators voted by a simple voice vote last night to end the DEA's controversial bulk data collection programs, as part of the U.S. House of Representatives' consideration of the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. The House also passed three amendments that cut $23 million from the DEA's budget, and shifted it to fighting child abuse, processing rape test kits, reducing the deficit, and paying for body cameras on police officers to reduce law enforcement abuses.
Representatives debated four amendments to prohibit the DEA and Justice Department from undermining state marijuana laws -- and those votes will happen later today.
"Congress dealt a major blow to the DEA by ending their invasive and offensive bulk data collection programs and by cutting their budget, said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The more the DEA ignores commonsense drug policy, the more they will see their agency's power and budget come under deeper scrutiny."
Three amendments cutting the DEA's budget passed by voice vote. Rep. Ted Liew's (D-CA) amendment shifted $9 million from the DEA's failed Cannabis Reduction and Eradication program to the VAWA Consolidated Youth Oriented Program ($4 million), Victims of Child Abuse Act ($3 million), and deficit reduction ($2 million). Rep. Steve Cohen's (D-TN) amendment shifted $4 million from the DEA to a program to reduce the nation's backlog in processing of rape test kits. Rep. Joaquin Castro's (D-TX) amendment shifted $9 million from the DEA to body cameras for police officers to reduce police abuse.
Last night the House also adopted an amendment preventing DEA and DOJ from using federal funds to engage in bulk collection of Americans' communications records. It was offered by Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
In 2013 a major Reuters expose reported that the DEA has been collaborating with the NSA, CIA, and other agencies to spy on American citizens in the name of the War on Drugs. The journalists also revealed that DEA agents are actively creating -- and encouraging other agencies to create -- fake investigative trails to disguise where the information originated, known as "parallel construction", a scheme that prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and others are arguing has robbed defendants of their right to a fair trial. Hundreds or thousands of cases could be affected. In April of this year USA Today reported that the DEA and Justice Department have been keeping secret records of billions of international phone calls made by Americans for decades. The program was the first known U.S. effort to gather bulk data on U.S. citizens, regardless of whether or not they were suspected of committing a crime. It formed the basis of post-9/11 spying programs.
"The DEA built the modern surveillance state," said Piper. "From spying on Americans to busting into people's homes the DEA doesn't fit in well in a free societyand the time is now to reverse these harms."
Yesterday, the House also debated a bipartisan amendment that prohibits the DEA from undermining state marijuana laws. It was offered by Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The vote will occur later today.
"There's unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights," said Piper.
Currently, 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have legalized marijuana for a variety of medicinal purposes - and an additional 16 states have passed laws to allow access to CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of marijuana that has proven uniquely effective in managing epileptic seizures that afflict children. Four states - Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington - have legalized marijuana like alcohol. In 2016, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are expected to decide ballot initiatives on the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use. A slew of recentpolls show that significant majorities of both Democrats and Republicans strongly believe that the decision of whether and how to regulate marijuana should be left up to the states.
A similar bipartisan amendment offered by other members of Congress, except it only applies to medical marijuana, was also debated and will be voted on later today. It was offered by Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Dina Titus (D-NV). The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment passed the U.S. House last year with strong bipartisan support. It made it into the final CJS spending bill signed into law by the President. Because it was attached to an annual spending bill it will expire later this year unless Congress renews it.
A third marijuana amendment by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) was also debated and will be voted on later today. It would protect state laws that allow the use of CBD oils, but leave most medical marijuana patients and their providers vulnerable to federal arrest and prosecution.
A fourth amendment by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) was also debated and will be voted on today. It would prohibit the DEA from undermining state laws allowing the industrial use of hemp. A similar amendment passed the House last year.
The amendments are part of a growing bipartisan effort to hold the DEA more accountable and reform U.S. drug policy. The DEA has existed for more than 40 years, but little attention has been given to the role the agency has played in fueling mass incarceration, racial disparities and other problems exacerbated by the drug war. Congress has rarely scrutinized the agency, its actions or its budget, instead deferring to DEA administrators on how best to deal with drug-related issues. That all has changed recently after a series of scandals that sparked several hearings in the House and Senate and forced the resignation of the DEA's beleaguered head, Administrator Michele Leonhart.
The Drug Policy Alliance recently released a new report, The Scandal-Ridden DEA: Everything You Need to Know. The report and a comprehensive set of background resources about the campaign to rein in the DEA are available at: www.drugpolicy.org/DEA. DPA placed a mock "we're hiring" ad in Roll Calllast month criticizing the DEA and their leadership.
"The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems," said Piper. "There's a bipartisan consensus that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore."