Drug Policy Alliance lobbyist Bill Piper told the Los Angeles Times “the war on medical marijuana is over” after President Obama signed the $1.1 trillion “Cromnibus” bill (pdf) Tuesday with a small provision tucked away inside that prohibited the federal government from interfering with states that legalized it.
It’s time, Piper said, to move on to legalization of recreational pot. But that path may be a bit hazier than he acknowledged. The law codifies what many perceive to already be federal policy—the states can sanction medical marijuana but must still abide by federal laws.
The 1,603-page law spends a sentence on Page 214 forbidding the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from spending any funds to prevent the 32 states and District of Columbia, which have legalization laws on the books, “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
That seems pretty clear. Hands off the dispensaries. The U.S. Attorneys offices in California have had a hands-on policy for about three years, citing federal laws that still criminalize cultivation and sale of marijuana and the less-than-stellar regulation that the state and localities have provided.
How much that changes remains to be seen. Jacob Sollum at Reason argues that interference by the feds may indispose the state and its residents, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are preventing implementation of state laws, which the law proscribes. That wording could need some judicial clarification.
Sollum also thinks states that don’t explicitly refer to medical marijuana dispensaries in their laws, like California, might have a problem. Dispensaries are patient cooperatives in California, collective gardens in Washington State and caregivers elsewhere.
Sollum asked U.S. Representative Sam Farr (D-California), co-sponsor of the amendment with Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), about the bill’s language. Farr said:
“This is a statement of congressional intent that [the] DEA [should] back off on these issues. We will have to continue to reconcile federal policy with state policy.”
Legislative intent counts and words matter. Both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have sounded downright accommodating about medical marijuana in the past, but the words did little to align policy between local, state and federal interests. Or prevent raids and busts across California.