The conflict between a federal government ban on marijuana and a near-majority of states who approve marijuana for medical use was the subject of a federal court decision this week.
And the decision backs those who use marijuana to treat health issues, including chronic pain.
A federal judge has ruled Monday that a Congressional budget amendment prevents the Department of Justice from taking action against medical marijuana patients and providers who are operating in compliance with state laws. This is an important decision because 23 states and the District of Columbia have approved medical marijuana.
Northern District of California Judge Charles Breyer said that by enacting the so-called Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, “Congress dictated…that it intended to prohibit the Department of Justice from expending any funds in connection with the enforcement of any law that interfered with California’s ability” to implement its own state medical marijuana laws. The decision was prompted by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s efforts to shut down the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a prominent San Francisco-area medical marijuana dispensary.
The House of Representatives first approved the budgetary amendment in May 2014, and it was included in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 signed by President Obama in December.
Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), who sponsored and authored the amendment, responded in a letter that such an interpretation was “emphatically wrong” and later requested an inspector general investigation into the Justice Department’s continued use of funds for prosecutions.
The House of Representatives passed the amendment again in June 2015, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it for the first time, as well. It is expected to be included in any compromise legislation funding the government for the next fiscal year.
Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. His reaction?
“This is a big win for medical marijuana patients and their providers, and a significant victory in our efforts to end the federal government’s war on marijuana. Federal raids of legitimate medical marijuana businesses aren’t just stupid and wasteful, but also illegal.
“While an annual appropriations rider is a way to temporarily work around broken federal marijuana laws, Congress needs to take concrete steps to permanently resolve the tension between state and federal marijuana laws. Virtually every presidential candidate from both parties has said states should be able to determine their own marijuana laws, and multiple bills are pending in Congress that would allow them to do so. It is long past time those bills got the hearings and votes they deserve,” Riffle added.