House Vote Protects Medical Marijuana Patients From Federal Government

House Vote Protects Medical Marijuana Patients From Federal Government

The US House of Representatives late Thursday passed a measure that would prohibit the federal government from interfering with states’ medical marijuana laws.

The bill is the first time in history that any chamber of Congress has acted to protect medical marijuana businesses and users. It also got bipartisan support: 170 Democrats and 49 Republicans voted in favor of the bill.


The measure was attached to a funding bill for several federal agencies, and it blocks the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration from using funds to prevent states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws.

The measure, however, will require approval from the Senate and President Barack Obama. The Senate is expected to pass its own funding bill, so the medical marijuana amendment will need to survive through both chambers’ reconciliation process — and then obtain Obama’s signature — to become law.

Still, marijuana legalization advocates praised the House’s decision.

“Congress is officially pulling out of the war on medical marijuana patients and providers. Federal tax dollars will no longer be wasted arresting seriously ill medical marijuana patients and those who provide to them,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “This is a historic vote, and it’s yet another sign that our federal government is shifting toward a more sensible marijuana policy.”

The vote, while historic and a bit surprising even to advocates, is part of the federal government’s ongoing shift toward more liberal marijuana policies. Just a few weeks ago, the feds increased how much marijuana can be grown for medical research. President Barack Obama and his administration have also taken steps to mitigate prosecutions against marijuana businesses that operate legally under state laws.

Marijuana advocates, in previous interviews, have said that this is the logical progression for marijuana policy as popular opinion shifts in favor of legalizing the drug and more states begin to seriously consider fully legalizing marijuana. As more congressional leaders gain more constituents that legally use marijuana for recreational and medical purposes, they will face increasing pressure to relax their stance on the drug.

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Still, legalization advocates have their work cut out for them. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and considered a more dangerous drug than cocaine and meth under the DEA’s scheduling system. As a result, banks don’t have enough faith in marijuana businesses to let them open bank accounts, which forces pot shops and cultivators to run as risky cash-only enterprises.



What is medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana is just marijuana except, as the name implies, it’s used for medical instead of recreational purposes.

Some studies and anecdotal evidence suggest marijuana can be used for various medical problems, including painnausea and loss of appetiteParkinson’s diseaseinflammatory bowel disease,PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. Still, some of these findings have been disputed:

The evidence comes with a very big caveat: it’s long been difficult to conduct thorough studies on the medical uses of marijuana, because of the drug’s prohibition and the need for approval from a federal government that’s more interested in studying marijuana’s potential for abuse than its benefits.

Still, some experts now claim it’s time to seriously look at marijuana’s medical benefits. Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN in 2013 cited a loud chorus of legitimate patients when he announced his shift in position to support for medical marijuana. For marijuana advocates, Gupta’s headlinegrabbingsupport represented a shift in the medical world’s attitude toward the drug.

Several states have already legalized medical marijuana, although the drug remains illegal for all purposes at the federal level. Maryland in 2014 became the 21st state to legalize medical marijuana, and New York and Florida may follow soon.

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