Just after midnight the House of Representative approved a bipartisan amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from using funds to go after state-approved medical marijuana. It was the first time that the House has voted in favor of medical marijuana, a political tipping point has been reached.
If the amendment clears the Senate and becomes law the practical short-term impact will be modest. It will definitely provide piece of mind and consistency to patients, providers, and local regulators. It should prevent some DEA raids, but how many is tough to determine because the Obama administration recently made going after state-approved medical marijuana low priority.
The amendment only really deals with the threat of federal law enforcement. Other problems that stem from the federal government still refusing to officially acknowledge marijuana’s medical value will continue. These include the hurdles for performing research, issues around drug testing/employment of patients, tax treatment of marijuana business, etc…
What is more significant is the political impact this vote will have. It is a clear game-changer after decades of a “war” mentality.
It signals that marijuana is no longer an untouchable taboo in Congress, but an issue capable of winning a bipartisan majority. Finally, most members of Congress are willing to start listening to the electorate on marijuana reform and sharing the belief that marijuana policy should be left up to the states. There has been a dramatic public shift on marijuana over the past decade and here is proof that even Congress isn’t immune forever.
Now that it is clear there is the political will to address the absurd federal-state conflict over medical marijuana this will likely be only the beginning. We can expect further legislative actions in the future and potentially this will create the political space executive action.
The executive branch has the ability to unilaterally remove marijuana from Schedule I, which classifies it has having no accepted medical value, but the Obama administration has admitted they have made the political decision not to without political cover from Congress. Now that House has approved a pro-medical marijuana amendment the administration may feel freer to reconsider rescheduling.
After fighting medical marijuana for decades the House has admitted it is what the people want and it’s here to stay. There is no going back now. Lets just hope it takes less than 18 years for Congress to acknowledge state laws legalizing recreational marijuana.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy