While the 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill for 2016 may not seem seem like a win for medical marijuana advocates on the surface, it actually is. For the second year in a row, provisions in the bill signed by President Obama on Friday December 18, lifts the federal ban on medical cannabis.
A measure within the 1,603-page bill permits each individual state to design it’s own medical marijuana policies, and prevents the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. In years past, the DOJ has ignored the rights of states who voted to legalize medical cannabis, which led to a number of raids and arrests involving dispensaries, doctors and cultivators.
Similarly to the 2015 spending bill, the 2016 version prevents the DOJ and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state enacted medical marijuana laws. It also stops both federal organizations from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs.
“The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners. For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws,”
Commented Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
It’s encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies.”
Not every provision embraced by the cannabis community was included in the final version of the 2016 spending bill. For example, language to permit Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans was not included in the version signed by President Obama. The V.A. will continue to deny services to veterans even in states where the use of medical marijuana is legal.
The federal government will also still be able to punish banks who do business with state-legal marijuana providers. Although these provisions gained momentum and support in the House and Senate, the provision to allow legal cannabis businesses access to banking was not included in the final bill.
“While marijuana was once treated like a dangerous third-rail by most elected officials, the inclusion of these provisions demonstrates how it has now become a mainstream issue at the forefront of American politics and policymaking,”
Said Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority. “Polls show that a growing majority of voters support ending prohibition, and lawmakers can’t help but listen.” Angell also pointed out that this is the second year in a row that Congress has supported limiting the power that federal agents and prosecutors have in terms of interfering with state medical marijuana laws.
“Since the Justice Department is being so stubborn, the next step should be for lawmakers to pass permanent standalone legislation that goes beyond these temporary spending riders. Then the DEA will have a much harder time undermining Congress and voters.”
While attaching spending riders to federal legislation is not going to put an end to cannabis prohibition in the United States, it must start somewhere. Polls show that the majority of American voters support the legalization of cannabis, and a super majority support legalizing it for medicinal use.
According to President Obama, marijuana legalization should not be a priority for young American voters because there are more important issues on which to focus.
The legalization of marijuana was among the topics of conversation discussed by President Obama during a recent interview with Shane Smith of VICE. During the conversation, President Obama addressed young voters in the United States,
“Let’s put it in perspective. Young people, I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”
In regards to decriminalizing marijuana, however, President Obama’s opinion was more hopeful. He reported,
“You’re starting to see not just liberal Democrats, but also some very conservative Republicans recognize [prohibition] doesn’t make sense, including sort of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.”
“They see the money and how costly it is to incarcerate. So, we may actually be able to make some progress on the decriminalization side.”
This Vice interview caught the attention of ABC’s The View, and the co-hosts’ opinions on the issue were not aligned.
Two of the co-hosts, Rosie Perez and Whoopi Goldberg, disagreed with the way President Obama spoke about young Americans.
Rosie Perez has been with the show since last year, and believes that the legalization of marijuana is an economic issue that deserves attention. In response to President Obama’s statements, Perez said,
“I thought that he didn’t give a lot of young people enough credit in regards to their knowledge about the legalization around marijuana because it does include the economics. And I think that it’s a very important issue because if you look at the states that have legalized it, their economy is booming.
“There are other businesses surrounding the legalization of marijuana. It’s the same thing with prohibition with alcohol… I do agree with you that young people should be concerned with other issues, but that is also an important issue.”
Whoopi Goldberg, a member of the show since 2007, agreed with her Perez, and expressed her disapproval of the current classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. In response to President Obama’s position on marijuana legalization, Goldberg contended,
“I think young people are concerned about a lot of things, but this is something that they’re aware of that is being misrepresented because it’s a Schedule I drug, which a Schedule I drug means there is no reason for it to exist, which is not true, because people have been using hemp and marijuana for centuries for all kinds of things.”
Unlike her co-hosts, former Bush administration director of communications, Nicole Wallace, agreed with President Obama. Wallace admitted that she thinks Obama is correct, and believes that he was making a different point. During the show Wallace explained,
“Young people will have no political power in this country if they only vote on pot. And I think Obama is just speaking to the political reality of this, and he’s right.”
However, Wallace likely would not agree that marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug, as she admitted that cannabis at least does provide medicinal value.
No matter what the hosts’ opinions on the matter may be, the issue of marijuana prohibition continues to become more widely discussed each time it is covered on televisions shows such as the View.
After the 2015 State of the Union Address on Thursday, President Obama agreed to do three interviews with Youtube channel creators Hank Green, Bethany Mota and GloZell Green who all have millions of followers on their Youtube channels. The questions asked during these interviews were influenced by their followers. Topics covered included ObamaCare, North Korea, social media, Cuba, education and of course cannabis.
Hank Green was responsible for posing the questions about marijuana. Green asked President Obama what he thinks the United States must do to “shift out of the gray area weirdness” of state versus Federal legalization. In response to this question, President Obama predicts that more states will experiment with legalization, and showed concern with excessive incarceration and racial disparity in marijuana arrests.
President Obama elaborated,
“Colorado and Washington through state referendum are experimenting with legal marijuana. The position that my administration has been is we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance but we are not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made on the state level on this issue. My suspicion is you’re going to see other states start looking at this.”
Watch the video clip below where President Obama and Hank Green discuss marijuana legalization in the United States, and the rest of the President’s response is written out below the video clip.
President Obama continued,
“What I am doing at the federal level is asking my Department of Justice just to examine generally how we are treating nonviolent drug offenders because I think you’re right. What we have done is instead of focusing on treatment, the same way we focused say with tobacco or drunk driving or other problems where we treat it as a public health problem, we’ve treated this exclusively as a criminal problem. And I think that it’s been counterproductive and it’s been devastating in a lot of minority communities. It presents the possibility at least of unequal application of the law and that has to be changed. Now the good news is that we’re starting to get some interest from Republicans as well as Democrats in reforming the criminal justice system. We’ve been able to initiate some changes administratively and last year you had the first time in 40 years where the crime rate and the incarceration rate went down at the same time. I hope we can continue with those trends because they’re just a smarter way of dealing with these issues.”
It appears as though President Obama’s prediction may be correct because full legalization bills have been filed for the 2015 legislative session in states like Arizona and New York, while states like Indiana, Florida and Virginia will hear bills legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes only.
As more and more Americans are learning the truth behind marijuana prohibition, attitudes are changing and its only a matter of time before policies are also changed. You can also check out this infographic for predictions of which states will be next to legalize marijuana.