The House of Representatives took an important step towards ending the federal war on medical marijuana. Just after midnight Friday morning the House voted to approve an amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill that prohibits federal law enforcement resources from being used against medical marijuana that is approved under state law. The amendment won in a vote of 219-189.
The bipartisan amendment was offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has offered similar amendments several times in the past. When the amendment was offered in 2012, it was rejected in a vote of 163-262, but since then there has been big shift in state policy. The people of Colorado and Washington state voted to fully legalize marijuana, and several states have adopted medical marijuana laws. Just Thursday Minnesota just became the 22nd to do so.
The bill with the amendment in it will still need to be approved in the Senate, but there is a very good chance that will happen. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has become more open-minded about medical marijuana.
Ending the threat of arrests of medical marijuana providers and patients is a very important step, but still more would need to be done to address other problems caused by the federal government. By keeping medical marijuana as a Schedule I drug, defining it as having no accepted medical use, issues remain such as a lack of access to banking and the unfair tax treatment of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Hopefully this vote will spur the federal government to take more steps to fully end the federal/state conflict over medical marijuana. As I said before, the Obama administration has the power reschedule marijuana any time it wants.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy