Congress Just Took A Giant Step On Medical Marijuana And Almost Nobody Noticed...

December 18th 2014

Alex Mierjeski

It’s official: medical marijuana patients can exhale a sigh of relief with the knowledge that the federal war against medical weed is over.

Buried deep within Congress’ recent spending bill is a provision that effectively bans the hard-fought federal war on medical marijuana across the country. And although we’ve recently reported on some less-than-exciting news blocking legalized marijuana in Washington, D.C. (though it could backfire), last Saturday was an indisputable victory for patients’ rights advocates and marijuana legalization proponents everywhere.


As the Senate approved the $1.1 trillion federal spending bill to keep the government running through next summer, they also agreed to stop the Department of Justice from spending any money to prosecute medical marijuana patients or dispensaries operating legally under state laws but not under federal ones. As Slate pointed out, the “federal government still classifies pot as a Schedule I substance—as it does heroin—one the Drug Enforcement Administration says has ‘no currently accepted medical use.’”

Despite their persistence, the validity of the DEA’s stance is dubious given the millions of Americans who currently utilize medical marijuana across the 23 states where it’s legal. Even the Obama administration has given states the green light to experiment with regulated, legal, medical and recreational pot. But activists are calling the spending bill stipulation, known as the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, a landmark.

According to a statement from California Rep. Sam Farr, “patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution,” the Democrat who supported the rider said. “And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients.”

Although the Justice Department pledged not to interfere with the implementation of state laws pertaining to medical marijuana last year, the reality has been anything but for dispensary owners who have lived in constant fear of federal agent raids and other targeting by federal agencies like the IRS. But the spending bill provision, activists hope, will put a stop to all of that. Individuals already prosecuted, like the Kettle Falls Five, an Eastern Washington family facing a minimum of ten years for growing too many marijuana plants, also are eligible for relief.

The amendment was assuredly a big win for all the benefactors of medical marijuana, from storeowners down to patients. It even appealed to Republicans’ states’ rights interests. But what’s more, it signals an important shift in federal attitudes towards easing back on anti-marijuana laws. The Capitol is learning more and more that it can’t always exert control over how states handle the drug, and for millions of Americans, that’s a breath of fresh air.