By Phillip Smith
Just last week, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. This week, a similar message came from the Senate.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one this week in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
While the appropriations bill must still be approved by the Senate as a whole, both houses of Congress are now on record as telling the DEA to butt out of medical marijuana states. The passage of identical amendments in both houses is a good indicator that they will be included in the spending bill when it gets to President Obama's desk.
While the House has passed similar amendments for the last two years, this is the first time it was offered in the Senate. It mirrors the provisions of the CARERS Act (HR 1538/S.683), introduced earlier this year, but because a ban in an appropriations bill expires at the end of the fiscal year, advocates are still calling for the CARERS Act to move.
The vote was an impressive 21-9, with the only Democrat voting against it being Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Republicans split right down the middle, with eight opposing and eight supporting.
Drug reform advocates were pleased.
"This is another resounding victory for medical marijuana patients, their families, and their care providers. Congress is making it clear that the Department of Justice and the DEA have no business interfering in state medical marijuana laws," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.
"The goal of this amendment is to provide deference to the states, making it strikingly similar to the operative provisions of the CARERS Act. 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," Riffle continued.
"With so many votes going our way these days, each new one gets less and less exciting. But that's a good problem to have," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "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. 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."