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.