House votes to defund medical-marijuana prosecutions

Posted by Bryce Crawford on Fri, May 30, 2014 at 10:51 AM

In a move marijuana advocates are calling "unprecedented," yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives voted to amend the Commerce, Justice & Science (CJS) appropriations bill — which sets the funding for the Department of Justice, among other entities — to end prosecutions of medical-marijuana patients.

The wording of the amendment, which was co-sponsored by Boulder's Rep. Jared Polis, is pretty straightforward:

"None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

As the graphic shows, Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman — who's in a tough battle for reelection against popular Democrat, and former state legislator, Andrew Romanoff — was one of 49 Republicans to support the amendment to the bill, leaving advocates jubilant.

"This Congressional vote is a huge victory for patients," says Steph Sherer, the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, in a statement. "No longer will we have to look over our shoulder and worry when the next raid or indictment will prevent us from safely and legally accessing our medicine."

It's fairly historic, as the amendment has been offered seven times since 2003, says the Marijuana Policy Project, and signifies the first time Congress has acted against the war on marijuana. Still, Sherer's statement isn't technically accurate, as the Senate still has to take up the bill. We contacted Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall for their views on the measure, and will update this post if we hear back.

“If you’ve been wondering when Congress would be forced to catch up to public opinion on cannabis, it started last night,” says Michael Correia with the National Cannabis Industry Association in a release. “The House of Representatives has done its part to respect state laws, patients, and the will of the voters. The Senate should do the same.”

Naturally, our own Rep. Doug Lamborn, who's also up for reelection and faces a primary challenger as well as a Democratic opponent, voted against MMJ patients.

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