WASHINGTON — The House passed an amendment late Thursday night to restrict the Drug Enforcement Administration from targeting medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal.
The 219-189 decision came on a bipartisan appropriations amendment spearheaded by California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and California Democrat Sam Farr. The amendment still faces several procedural hurdles before it is ratified, but this is the first time such an amendment has succeeded in the House.
The vote is an encouraging one for marijuana advocates, who say it shows the congressional pendulum is finally tilting in their favor.
“The significance of it is a symbolic importance,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. “We are nearing a point now where the United States Congress is essentially ready to end marijuana prohibition.”
The amendment needed 218 votes to pass.
The bipartisan amendment was co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Donald Young, Tom McClintock, Paul Broun, Steve Stockman, and Justin Amash along with Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Steve Cohen, Jared Polis, Barbara Lee, and Dina Titus.
Though the decision is a significant one, there are still many strong voices in opposition to marijuana reform, including those of GOP Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland and John Fleming of Louisiana.
“This would be like me as a physician saying, ‘I think you need penicillin. Go chew on some mold,’” Harris said while debating the amendment Thursday night.
Late Wednesday night, members debated a separate amendment from Fleming that caused tempers to flare on both sides.
“We saw ‘reefer madness’ in the ’30s, and it has come back to Congress here 80-some-odd years later,” Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen said.
“Marijuana does not make people commit crime. It makes them overeat,” he added.
Activists say that while raids on legal marijuana facilities have slowed down recently, they haven’t stopped entirely, including at least one raid in Colorado in 2014. And prosecutions of nonviolent drug offenders continue as well.
When asked whether the amendment would actually stop raids of facilities in states where it is legal for them to operate, a Department of Justice spokeswoman sent BuzzFeed this statement: “The department is reviewing the amendments.”
Currently 22 states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes. Five others don’t allow smoking, but do allow cannabidiol (CBD) oils.
“This year’s huge vote increase can largely be attributed to the fact that lawmakers only recently began hearing the moving stories of the many children whose severe seizures are only relieved by marijuana,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, in a statement. “Being able to list these CBD states in the amendment text meant that more members of Congress that represent these states voted yes than otherwise would have. Counting these states, 60% of the U.S. population lives in a place where state law disagrees with federal law.”
Updated to include a statement from Marijuana Majority.
Updated to include statement from DOJ.