Despite what you may have heard, Congress did not just legalize marijuana, quietly or otherwise.
It did pass an omnibus spending bill that prohibits the Department of Justice using funds to stop states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws, but that is a far cry from open legalization, Jacob Sullum reports from Forbes.
Federal raids on marijuana dispensaries and prosecution of marijuana cases continue in California and other states that have legalized medicinal marijuana.
The confusion began with a Los Angeles Times article titled “Congress quietly ends federal government’s ban on medical marijuana,” which says federal agents would now be prohibited from raiding marijuana operations.
It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.
— Forbes (@Forbes) January 3, 2016
Several news outlets followed up with articles of their own proclaiming that at last the federal government had ended its ban on marijuana and allowed the states to regulate themselves.
Sadly, the news wasn’t true, and the Schedule 1 drug remains illegal at the federal level, designated as having no redeeming value.
The legislation barring the Department of Justice using federal money to prevent the states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws was attached as a rider to a massive spending bill, meaning it will have to be passed again each year.
It’s named the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment and was first passed in 2014, when it was attached to a similar spending bill.
In order for the bill to have the desired effect, officials at the Justice Department would need to interpret their instructions the same way Congress did when they passed the legislation.
Officials at the DOJ contend that pursuing medical marijuana cases, conducting raids and seizing property isn’t the same as preventing states from implementing their own cannabis laws.
That’s something the DOJ and members of Congress disagree on.
Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. pic.twitter.com/o9a8NcphZr
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 3, 2016
After Congress first passed the rider, the bill’s authors complained that DOJ officials violated the intent of Congress with their continued prosecution of medical marijuana cases, according to Forbes.
“It defies language and logic for the government to argue that it does not prevent California from implementing its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these … heavily regulated medical marijuana dispensaries.”
A test case involving this argument and the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana is under review by U.S. courts, but even if the cannabis advocates prevail, it still won’t mean a ban on federal prosecution.
The bill also has no affect on the 27 states that have not legalized medicinal marijuana, nor does it apply to the IRS or Treasury Department or any other federal agency.
It also doesn’t change the Controlled Substances Act, which continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, with no redeemable value.
— Highsnobiety (@highsnobiety) December 30, 2015
Although four states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and 23 other states have eased restrictions, the drug remains illegal at the federal level.
A number of politicians, however, are fighting to legalize marijuana at the federal level, including Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican candidate Rand Paul.
Paul sponsored a comprehensive bill that would allow states to legalize marijuana and reclassify cannabis as a Schedule II drug, according to Forbes.
Meanwhile, Sanders has called for the drug to be taken off the Federal Controlled Substance Act entirely, according to the Huffington Post.
We need major changes in our criminal justice system, including changes in drug laws.
[AP Photo/David Zalubowski]