For all intents and purposes, medical marijuana is now legal, not only under California law but under federal law as well.
This means federal agencies and prosecutors will no longer stand in the way of legal medical weed. The change marks the biggest win yet at the federal level and an indication marijuana prohibition may have reached its closing days.
Congress approved a $1 trillion budget for 2015 in mid-December, and President Obama quickly said he would sign the package into law. That means a small rider attached to the budget will also become law – and change American marijuana policy forever.
The amendment, written by California GOP Rep. Dana Rohrbacher and California Democratic Rep. Sam Farr, effectively blocks the DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies from targeting medical marijuana providers in states where the drug is legal for patients.
“This is great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country,” Farr said in a press release. “This amendment protects patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people. Patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution. And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients.”
While the move does little to help recreational pot smokers, it’s a major victory for patients. The amendment defunds efforts by the DEA and other agencies to stamp out MMJ, especially in California, where it’s legal.
That means those agencies will no longer be able to descend from helicopters onto legal MMJ farms and cut down plants. They won’t be able to send legitimate providers to jail or seize their property anymore. And perhaps most important, the amendment cuts federal prosecutors in California off at the knees.
It will be hard now, if not impossible, for U.S. attorneys such as Melinda Haag to target the medical cannabis industry. Haag and her cohorts across the state have aggressively tried to shutter dispensaries, imprison growers, and take private property without due process.
Marijuana is no less illegal than it was before lawmakers passed the budget, but now the feds will have no means to persecute cannabis patients and their providers. Prosecutors such as Haag and agencies such as the DEA may still look for alternative sources of money to fight weed, but Congress will always be able to take it away.
Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said federal agents never had any business in stopping medical marijuana. Patients deserve the care they need, he said, and the law must protect them.
“This legislation makes it clear that the D.E.A. has no business interfering in states’ medical marijuana laws,” Tvert said. “Taxpayer money should not be used to punish seriously ill people who use medical marijuana and the caregivers who provide it to them.”
Advocates are still working on additional legislation to protect patients. They’ll have until at least next fall, when the budget amendment will expire. Proponents hope they can build enough steam to push for an end to all federal restrictions on medical weed.
“Now that we are in a ‘ceasefire,’ patients are ready to work with Congress on comprehensive medical marijuana legislation,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access. “Passage of this measure has shown that Congress is ready to roll up its sleeves on this issue, and we’re ready to work together to bring about broader and more lasting change for the millions of Americans who rely on medical marijuana treatments.”