The war on drugs unfolded in the United States decades ago, but medical marijuana dispensaries are now being protected due to provisions in a recent federal spending bill.

The bill specifies that the Department of Justice is not allowed to use any part of their agency’s budget to pursue action against state-legal medical marijuana operations. Many businesses in states that legally allow marijuana for medical use have been raided for not complying with federal laws, even when they do comply with state laws. Once the spending bill goes into effect, these raids will no longer be permitted.

The bill was introduced by House Representatives Sam Farr and Dana Rohrabacher. Farr commented to the Huffington Post that this bill will ensure that federal tax dollars are used to prosecute criminals rather than restrict a patient’s legal use of marijuana. Reports estimate that almost $80 million per year has been spent to fight medical marijuana dispensaries during Obama’s administration. Farr also stated that more work needs to be done to align federal and state policies.

The new law means that medical marijuana dispensaries in 23 states will be protected from prosecution. Eleven states have also legalized the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oils, and this will also be protected. Cannabidiol is the marijuana cannabinoid known to be effective in the treatment of epilepsy. While state laws have permitted the use of marijuana for medical purposes, patients and their caregivers have repeatedly been arrested by the DEA for breaking federal drug laws. Marijuana remains listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, designating the plant as having zero recognized medicinal uses in the United States. Heroin and LSD are also Schedule I substances.

Americans for Safe Access released a statement praising the measure and noting that it will end the arrest and criminal conviction of patients using marijuana to ease medical conditions. Patients’ rights advocates are hopeful that the bill will lead to the end of civil asset forfeiture cases for patients as well.

Industrial hemp production is legalized in 18 states and will also be protected from prosecution under the regulations in the bill. Cannabis sativa is both marijuana and hemp. The difference is that hemp contains minimal amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. This number is less than 1.5 percent in hemp.

Research into hemp production is ongoing, and more than 12 states have introduced pieces of legislation to investigate hemp production or move forward with legalization of the process. For example, the DEA has permitted the state of Kentucky to begin a research program.

photo credit: Coleen Danger

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