An amendment to a bill in Congress could soon make life much easier for patients and providers of medical marijuana in states where MMJ is allowed by law.
It the legislation advances and becomes law, it would mark a major turning point for the medical weed industry in California and other states with troubled MMJ programs.
President Obama has said several times that he and his agencies wouldn’t interfere with states that legalize weed for medical or recreational use, as long as those states pursue eight federal priorities, such as reducing interstate trafficking of the drug.
But rogue authorities in several agencies, including the DEA, have continued to go after patients, growers, and sellers in many places. The DEA nominally reports to the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder, but in reality operates almost entirely outside the chain of federal accountability.
U.S. attorneys across the country, especially in Northern California, also have continued prosecutions against MMJ growers, dispensers, and patients. Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, has been especially aggressive in taking down popular dispensaries in the Bay Area. Her tactics have generated strong public support for the targeted shops.
The new legislation, proposed as a bipartisan amendment to a major spending bill, was scheduled for debate and a vote as early as May 29. Six Republicans and six Democrats proposed it. The amendment would ban the DOJ and its various agencies, including the DEA and FBI, from targeting medical marijuana in states that legalize it.
The DOJ also oversees the U.S. attorneys who handle federal criminal cases in 93 geographic districts spread across all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and the U.S. territories. Despite Obama’s hands-off policy toward legal weed, a number of U.S. attorneys have kept up the heat on the pot industry.
Federal prosecutors have a great deal of discretion in what kinds of cases they choose to prosecute. So little short of a statute from Congress or the threat of firing from the president could force a U.S. attorney to toe the administration line – and such firings tend to cause major political scandals. So Haag, for example, will likely continue to prosecute MMJ in California until Congress stops her.
And that’s the intention of the congressional amendment. A similar attempt failed by a vote of 262-165 seven years ago, but supporters say they have momentum now and are much more likely to succeed this time.
“I think the tables are turning,” said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. “I’m trying to be optimistic that Congress can act consistently with the popular support for this issue.”