The House of Representatives voted on May 29, 2014 to defund DEA raids on medical marijuana in those states with legalized medical marijuana. This is certainly a step in the right direction. However, it is not enough. The marijuana laws and penalties for violation remain largely unchanged.
Passed with Bi-Partisan Support
The amendment which would defund the DEA raids was surprisingly introduced by a Republican, Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California. Equally surprisingly, the bill passed with 49 Republican votes. This is perhaps the most promising aspect of the Amendment.
The Amendment relates strictly to medical marijuana. The Republican support is certainly a welcome development but it remains to be seen where these same Republicans will stand on further reforms to marijuana laws.
Limited to Medical Marijuana
The Amendment reads:
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Folks should not read more into this than what it is which is a basically a tacit validation of medical marijuana through budget measures. It does not address the ongoing war on marijuana at the federal level and all but 2 states. While it is legal in Colorado and Washington, people continue to go to jail and prison in the remaining states even for possession of small quantities.
Amendment Does Not Address Scheduling of Marijuana
The biggest shortcoming is the fact that the Amendment does not address the biggest problem with marijuana laws at the state and federal levels which is the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. Even New Mexico which has relatively enlightened marijuana laws continues the Schedule I classification.
What is remarkable is that the very definition of Schedule I controlled substance turns on the lack of medical use, “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse….”
Marijuana’s schedule I classification puts it right alongside heroin, LSD, and meth. This is the case even though President Obama himself has acknowledged it is no worse than alcohol. Likewise, he acknowledges the unfairness of these laws in the fact that millions of Americans are in violation of the law while only a poor unlucky few face often harsh and excessive punishment.
The fact that the House by passing the amendment has basically acknowledged the medical use of marijuana flies in the face of the continuing Schedule I classification. And it is the Schedule I classification that continues to wreak havoc on the lives and families of otherwise law abiding citizens.
However, rescheduling of marijuna will require more than a budget item reduction.
The Amendment is Just a Budget Item
As suggested, the Amendment is simply a budget item. As such, there is nothing stopping the funding from being reinstated. This could happen in the next Congress. It could happen next month.
Like the policy statements from the Department of Justice on marijuana, medical marijuana, state’s rights… it is subject to change.
It is Not Enough!
Yes, it is step in the right direction but it falls woefully short of rationalized marijuana laws. The Amendment does not address recreational marijuana, it does not address the disastrous Schedule I classification, it does not address the pattern of profiling of Colorado and Washington license plates by other states.
The Amendment will have little effect on the ongoing prosecution and incarceration of Americans for marijuana law violations. This is equally so of the stated policies of the Department of Justice regarding marijuana prosecution in those states that have legalized medical marijuana and/or recreational altogether.
It is most definitely promising to see some progress. But the laws largely remain the same. The penalties for violations remain the same. And make no mistake; policy no matter how often and how forcefully it is cited is just policy. It is not law. Like policy, budget items are by no means permanent.
The messages being sent out by the President, the Justice Department and now Congress in the minds of many condones marijuana use. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, these messages because they have little girth behind them could do more harm than good as folks are lured into a sense of security from prosecution.