I've seen that a number of folks have raised some very good questions about the effectiveness of the Rohrabacher-Farr medical marijuana amendment that passed the U.S. House late last Thursday night. I thought I would share my thoughts on the matter.
The amendment had to be written in a very, very particular way to survive a point of order on the House floor. That's why the amendment talks about implementation and why it specifically lists current states and not future states like New York.
It is clear, however, from the floor debate and other statements from the amendment's 12 cosponsors that the legislative intent of the amendment is to prohibit DOJ/DEA from spending any money - not even a dollar - undermining state medical marijuana laws by investigating, arresting, or prosecuting medical marijuana patients, caregivers, or providers operating in accordance with state law. That couldn't be written explicitly into the amendment because of House rules, and legislative intent and court interpretation are tricky, but part of the debate and the statements were meant to shape legal intent and interpretation.
Moreover, this amendment is currently written into a bill that appropriates money to DOJ/DEA and other agencies. Agencies take appropriations bills very seriously, arguably more so than statutes. This is especially the case for law enforcement agencies, which have a long history of ignoring/breaking the law but read appropriations bills in detail and comply not only with restrictions but even loose requests that members put into appropriations committee reports, because they know better than to bite the hand that feeds them money.
So should DPA, MPP, ASA and everyone else working on this succeed in getting the language through the U.S. Senate and signed by the president I feel reasonably confident that patients, caregivers, and providers can breathe easier in 2015 (the period in which the appropriations bill covers), at least those who are in compliance with state law. The real solution is obviously amending the Controlled Substances Act, which we will one day soon be able to do, probably in the next three to six years.
I will never be able to fully sleep at night until all of federal marijuana prohibition is repealed (and even then there will be all the other drug laws to worry about - please don't leave the movement once marijuana is legal because there will still be a lot more work to do).
Because this issue could come up soon in the Senate, please email your senators right now and urge them to cut off funding to federal medical marijuana raids. Passing this amendment in the Senate is critical to not only protecting medical marijuana patients and providers but also saving taxpayer dollars and prioritizing federal law enforcement resources effectively.
Bill Piper is the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.