MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Congress Did Not Repeal the Ban on Medical Marijuana

Yesterday I argued that it's not clear whether a rider aimed at stopping federal harassment of medical marijuana patients and their suppliers will accomplish that goal. The provision, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and included in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last week, bars the Justice Department from spending money to "prevent" states or the District of Columbia from "implementing" laws allowing medical use of cannabis. I am not sure exactly what that means, but I am pretty sure it does not mean what the Los Angeles Times claims it means in a story headlined "Congress Quietly Ends Federal Government's Ban on Medical Marijuana":

Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government's prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.

The bill's passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.

Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so.

The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. But the measure approved as part of the spending bill, which President Obama plans to sign this week, will codify it as a matter of law.

The Rohrabacher amendment is a welcome indication that many members of Congress, including a sizable number of Republicans, are inclined to let states set their own marijuana policies, and it may indeed deter federal prosecutors from targeting patients and suppliers who comply with state law. But it clearly does not end the federal ban on marijuana, which makes no distinction between medical and recreational use. Even if the rider affects enforcement of that ban in the 23 states with medical marijuana laws, it has no impact in the other 27. Nor does it necessarily end tension between the federal government and states that let patients use marijuana for symptom relief.

First, the rider expires at the end of next September and may or may not be renewed. Second, federal prosecution of particular growers or dispensaries does not, strictly speaking, prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws, since it does not force states to punish activities they have decided to stop treating as crimes. Third, even if we read the rider as prohibiting raids, arrests, prosecutions, and forfeiture actions aimed at people complying with state law, who those people are remains a matter of dispute in California and other states that do not explicitly allow dispensaries. In those states, where the rules for supplying medical marijuana remain fuzzy, people do still "need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations."

Finally, the Justice Department is not the only source of tension in this area. The Rohrabacher amendment has no impact on actions by the IRS or the Treasury Department that make it difficult for medical marijuana suppliers to pay their taxes and obtain banking services. Solving those problems will require changing the statutes those agencies are charged with enforcing.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • userve32||

    I dont think Slap Daddy JoJo is goign to liek that.

    www.TheAnonBay.tk

  • RickSteeb||

    Cannabis shall be removed from CSA "Schedule I", and placed in "CSA Subchapter I, Part A, §802. Definitions, paragraph (6)", appended to the list "distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco", where it will STILL be the least-toxic in the category [by several orders of magnitude].

    In other words, EXEMPT from CSA scheduling.

    Anything short of that is ABSOLUTELY unacceptable.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Good. Let's work to put that in the LP platform and get a libertarian in Congress. I used to think it would require several, but the possibility of one non-looter exposing the extent to which organized crime has become a fifth column and the Fifth Estate ought to put them over such a barrel that we may well abolish all prohibition and the individual income tax unless infiltrated by birth-forcing prohibitionists. Go to donations at LP.org, and VOTE, dammit!

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is proof of how Libertarian spoiler votes over the course of 22 election campaigns have finally forced mystical prohibitionists to back off of shooting our kids over hemp. Next step is to expunge all prohibition-related records and restore Second Amendment rights to all victims of the violence of anti-rights law. "The case for voting libertarian" is exactly that it forces the looters to change the laws--or face losing that hand in the till. Thanks LP.org!

  • Rockabilly||

    The GOP is full of shit, weak, and cowardly.

    Its claims to believe in a small limited government, but its words and actions say otherwise including letting King Obama piss on the US Constitution.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Maybe he's just rinsing off the shit that the GOP dumped on it.

  • Dariush||

    Maybe he's just menstruating on top of the shit that the GOP dumped on it.


    FIFY

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online