Lawmakers press for clear medical pot policy

Both the California Legislature and Congress want the Obama Administration to better explain its policy on medical marijuana.

State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, late Monday introduced a joint resolution urging the federal government to end medical marijuana raids in California and to “create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it.”

The Obama Administration has signaled a willingness to change federal policy – saying it’ll raid only traffickers who masquerade as medical dispensaries, using states’ medical marijuana laws as a shield – but hasn’t yet produced a clear implementation plan. There’ve been several raids in California since the apparent shift, leaving federal agents and prosecutors in the awkward position of determining who is and isn’t obeying state law.

Leno’s resolution, SJR 14, not only asks President Obama and Congress to “move quickly to end federal raids, intimidation, and interference with state medical marijuana law,” but also asks the federal government to establish “an affirmative defense to medical marijuana charges in federal court and establish federal legal protection for individuals authorized by state and local law…” Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in the Oakland-based Gonzales v. Raich case, marijuana defendants can’t defend themselves in federal court using a medical or state-law defense.

“Patients and providers in California remain at risk of arrest and prosecution by federal law enforcement and legally established medical marijuana cooperatives continue to be the subjects of federal raids,” Leno said in a news release. “This resolution will clearly state the Legislature’s opposition to federal interference with California’s medical marijuana law and support for expanded federal reform and medical research.”

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee is pushing for clarity in the Obama administration’s policy by adding language to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., the language states, “There have been conflicting public reports about the Department’s enforcement of medical marijuana policies. Within 60 days of enactment, the Department shall provide to the Committee clarification of the Department’s policy regarding enforcement of federal laws and use of federal resources against individuals involved in medical marijuana activities.”

Hinchey and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, in each of the last several Congresses have sponsored an amendment aimed at ending Drug Enforcement Administration raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.