The U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure on Thursday that protects states with legal marijuana from interference from the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement agencies. The amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to prevent the states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia from enacting laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of marijuana.
The bipartisan measure was sponsored by Democrats Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C. and Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California. The House approved the measure on Thursday afternoon by a vote of 267 to 165. With a voice vote on Wednesday, the House passed a similar measure that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with Native American tribes that implement their own cannabis laws on tribal lands.
In a letter to fellow representatives before Thursday’s vote, McClintock wrote that “the issue at hand is whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to dictate policy to states on an issue which occurs strictly within their own borders.”
“I do not believe the federal government has that authority, but even if it did, states should determine their own criminal justice policies,” he continued. “This is how our constitutional system was designed to function.”
“It’s past time we protect all cannabis programs,” said Blumenauer, the co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “We have much more work to do. The federal government is out of touch and our cannabis laws are out of date. I’m pleased that the House agrees and we are able to move forward.”
Activists Hail Historic Vote
Marijuana policy activists and cannabis industry representatives praised Thursday’s action by the House.
“Today’s vote is the most significant step Congress has ever taken toward ending federal marijuana prohibition,” said Steven Hawkins, the executive director of cannabis policy reform group the Marijuana Policy Project in a press release. “Congress is recognizing that the federal government must let the states decide on cannabis legalization — and not the other way around.”
“Two in three Americans support legalizing marijuana, and more than 25% of the U.S. population lives in a jurisdiction where marijuana is legal for adults,” Hawkins added. “We must protect these state laws and prevent federal arrests for people operating state-legal marijuana businesses.”
Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, also commended the House for its vote.
“This is the most significant vote on marijuana reform policy that the House of Representatives has ever taken,” Strekal said. “Today’s action by Congress highlights the growing power of the marijuana law reform movement and the increasing awareness by political leaders that the policy of prohibition and criminalization has failed.”
Neal Levine is the CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, a coalition of cannabis industry businesses that lobbied in favor of the amendment. He expressed hope that the success of the measure is a sign that a separate bill to protect states with legal cannabis will also prevail.
“The bipartisan nature of this vote is a strong signal that there would be majority support in the House for the STATES Act, which could be considered a more permanent version of this amendment,” Levine said in a press release. “We hope the full House will be given the opportunity to vote on the STATES Act in coming months so that we can move closer to the end of federal cannabis prohibition.”