A bill approved by lawmakers in the House of Representatives could end the long-running crackdown on medical marijuana in California.
The so-called Hinchey-Rohrbacher Amendment passed the House Dec. 11. Attached to the $1.1 trillion budget under consideration in Congress, the amendment would rescind funding from the Department of Justice that is used to “prevent (medical marijuana states) from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
If the bill passes the Senate and wins the signature of President Obama – both considered likely – it would stop the rogue prosecutions of medical marijuana providers and patients in California, as well as other states.
Medicinal cannabis has been legal in California since voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, the first effective MMJ law in the world. Yet weed remains illegal at the federal level, and local federal prosecutors have long used that technicality to interfere with medical weed in the state.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, whose district covers Northern California, has been especially aggressive in persecuting pot shops and their owners in the Bay Area. The DOJ has issued informal rules that allow these shops to operate, but prosecutors like Haag routinely ignore those rules and prosecute anyway. The new legislation would stop that practice.
Federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president, but they have traditionally been given wide berth in their use of prosecutorial discretion. Firing a prosecutor can come across as political retribution, and presidents avoid it.
But Congress controls the purse strings, and lawmakers have the power to take away the money prosecutors like Haag need to go after medical marijuana.
The omnibus spending bill is expected to pass the Senate and clear the President’s signature. The bill also contains an amendment that would ban Washington, D.C., from enforcing voters’ recent legalization of cannabis. Advocates in the District said they would fight that amendment, but support for the Hinchey-Rohrbacher Amendment is fairly strong.
The pro-weed rider surprised even many in the marijuana community after it was raised from the dead earlier this fall. Its passage marks the biggest move yet toward marijuana reform at the federal level.
“For the first time, Congress is letting states set their own medical marijuana and hemp policies, a huge step forward for sensible drug policy,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “States will continue to reform their marijuana laws, and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It’s not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed.”