December 17, 2014 6:30 PM
Washington, DC: Language approved by the US House of Representatives on Tuesday restricts the Justice Department's ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states.
The amendment, which states "None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used ... to prevent ... states ... from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana" is included in a $1.1 trillion Congressional appropriations bill. Members of the Senate and the President are expected to sign off on the spending measure, which seeks to fund federal activities through the 2015 fiscal year, imminently.
Members of the House initially approved the provision in May by a vote of 219 to 189.
House lawmakers on Tuesday also gave final approval to a separate provision prohibiting the federal government from funding efforts to interfere with state-sanctioned industrial hemp programs, including those that allow for the plant's cultivation. In February, members of Congress approvedlanguage (Section 7606) in the omnibus farm bill authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant.
Neither provision explicitly addresses state regulations governing the licensed production and sale of cannabis for recreational purposes, which is now permitted in Colorado and Washington. Voters in Alaska and Oregon approved similar legalization measures in November.
At this time, it remains uncertain what implications the soon-to-be passed federal spending bill will have upon the District of Columbia. Although some 70 percent of DC voters in November approved a municipal initiative (I-71) removing criminal penalties for adults who possess or grow small amounts of cannabis, language included in the federal spending act seeks to limit the law's implementation.
Specifically, a provision introduced by Maryland Republican Andy Harris states that no funds "may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act ... for recreational purposes." While the Congressional intent of the language is to "prohibit both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District," it remains unclear whether the Congressional rider has the authority to halt District officials from depenalizing minor marijuana offenses.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting member of Congress, said that there exists "genuine disagreement" among lawmakers in regard to the extent to which the language interferes with the implementation of Initiative 71.