Congress approved an historic piece of legislation late Thursday that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration from continuing to raid, arrest, and prosecute medical marijuana patients, by no longer allowing agencies under the Justice Department to use federal dollars to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized medicinal use of the drug.
By a surprisingly wide and bipartisan vote of 219-189, the House approved an amendment to a broader spending bill that would prohibit the DEA and other agencies from raiding licensed and legally compliant medical marijuana operations. The House also easily passed two other amendments related to industrial hemp production.
The overall appropriations bill, which addresses more than $50 billion in annual federal spending, later passed by an even wider margin and now moves on to the Senate. Any discrepancies in the Senate’s version of the bill would have to be reconciled between the two Congressional chambers.
In a conference call with reporters on Friday morning, Representative Jared Polis (D-Boulder), one of the amendments’ most outspoken advocates, noted that a virtually identical measure was defeated in the House just two years ago by a vote of 262-163. “It’s amazing that Congress has finally caught up with public opinion and the science around this issue,” he said of the ideological turnaround. “History was made by politicians from both sides of the aisle.”
With numerous Congressional procedures still on tap for the spending bill, the passage of the amendments doesn’t guarantee that the laws or the DEA and DOJ enforcement policies will change. But the evolving mood about marijuana in the normally intractable House is our clearest sign yet that our elected officials are beginning to recognize the failures and hypocrisies the so-called War on Drugs has created.