Congress passed a massive omnibus government spending bill over the weekend. And while most of the attention is on the fact that lawmakers have managed to avoid the mess of another government shutdown, the 1600-page, $1.1 trillion bill has a lot in it. Particularly of note? After many long years, the federal government has effectively lifted its prohibition on medical marijuana nationwide.
As the Los Angeles Times explains, the bill makes the federal government’s implicit policy of the past year into its explicit policy, and marks the first time Congress has taken a significant national move toward legalization.
Marijuana has been illegal for both medical and recreational use at the federal level for decades, despite a spate of state-level laws approving its use. Since the 1990s, 32 states and D.C. have passed approving the use of medical marijuana. But even in those states where medical use is legal, federal agencies have been able to raid and shut down marijuana buying, selling, and growing operations.
Last year, the Obama administration instructed federal prosecutors to stop enforcing federal-level marijuana laws that contradicted state policies. Now, that policy is law — or at least will be once President Obama signs the bill sometime this week.
Marijuana legalization advocates have been hailing the measure as a major win. “By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws,” said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access.
Of course, Congress is still standing in the way of some other pot laws. D.C. voters overwhelmingly passed a measure in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in the District, but legislators have tacked on an amendment to the very same bill that would prevent that change from moving forward.
Congress quietly ends federal government’s ban on medical marijuana [LA Times]