In a historic vote today the U.S. House passed a bipartisan amendment by Representatives Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA) preventing the Treasury Department from spending any funding to penalize financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses that are legal under state law. The amendment passed 231 to 192.
In May, the House passed an amendment prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws and passed two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws.
“Congress is yet again rejecting the failed war on marijuana,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “They have read the poll numbers and are doing both what is right and what is politically smart.”
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly three-in-four Americans (72 percent) believe that efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth, including 78 percent of Independents, 71 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans. There is strong support for state medical marijuana programs, with 80 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Independents, and 61 percent of Republicans supporting the sale and use of medical marijuana in their state. A majority of Americans support taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes. Eleven states have laws on the books or about to be signed into law by their governors regulating CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children’s seizures. Two states have legalized marijuana like alcohol – Colorado and Washington State. Alaska and Oregon voters will vote on legalizing marijuana in November.
The underlying spending bill that the Heck marijuana amendment was attached to also contains a an amendment, added in committee by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), that would block Washington, D.C. from carrying out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce criminal penalties for marijuana. That amendment was originally directed at blocking implementation of a recent law the District of Columbia passed replacing jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use with a small fine.
D.C.’s marijuana decrim law, however, takes effect at midnight tonight, long before the Harris Amendment would take effect. It’s also likely that the Harris Amendment will not pass the Senate, where the appropriations process has ground to a halt. President Obama has also threatened to veto the underlying bill.
In a Statement of Administration Policy the White House declared:
“Similarly, the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”
Advocates warn that if the Harris amendment does make it into law this year it could block implementation of Initiative 71 by local officials, should D.C. voters pass it this November, and block efforts by local lawmakers to tax and regulate adult marijuana sales. If passed by D.C. voters, Initiative 71 would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana on their person at any time, and allow for the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants at home. District law prevents the ballot initiative from addressing the sale of marijuana. However, the D.C. Council is currently considering a bill that will tax and regulate marijuana within the District.
The District of Columbia has the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the U.S. In 2010 African Americans in the District accounted for 91 percent of all marijuana arrests – even though African American and white residents use marijuana at roughly similar rates.
“That Congressman Harris would try to kill D.C.’s efforts to stop arresting people for marijuana possession is beyond disturbing,” said Dr. Malik Burnett, D.C. policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. “His amendment is an affront to the District’s right to home rule, while ensuring that thousands of District residents continue to be arrested and suffer the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. Congress should be following D.C.’s example and end racist marijuana arrest policies, instead of defying the will of the people and reversing their decision.”