The House again tonight rejected a bipartisan amendment to forbid the Justice Department from interfering with states’ implementation of their medical marijuana laws, declining to rebuke the Obama Administration for recent raids in states including California.
The vote was 163-262, after about 43 minutes of debate earlier in the day. All Bay Area members voted in favor of the amendment.
Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, now have offered this amendment to the Justice Department’s appropriations bill six times over the past decade; their high-water mark was 165 “aye” votes in 2007. Joining them in offering this year’s amendment were Reps. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, and Sam Farr, D-Carmel.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use; the Connecticut and New Hampshire legislatures recently passed medical marijuana bills now awaiting their governors’ signatures. Federal law, however, still bans all marijuana cultivation, distribution, sale and use.
The Obama Administration has taken a multi-pronged approach to cracking down on medical marijuana providers. In some cases, U.S. Attorneys have threatened dispensaries’ landlords and banks with prosecution; in others, the IRS has rejected standard tax deductions from medical marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law. And in some cases, such as that of Oaksterdam University last month, federal agents have raided medical-marijuana-related businesses.
President Obama has said the federal government isn’t pursuing medical marijuana users, but rather is focusing upon large-scale commercial operations that may be supplying recreational users as well. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a statement last week expressing “strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California.”
Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, earlier Wednesday had issued a statement in support of the amendment. “History is calling on President Obama to protect terminally ill patients from suffering, and he is dangerously close to falling on the wrong side,” Piper said. “He will continue to pay a political price as long as his administration continues to waste taxpayer money undermining state law.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has begun organizing workers at medical marijuana businesses, also had issued a statement saying that “at a time when millions of hardworking Americans are out of work and still struggling to make ends meet, the use of taxpayer money for the misguided targeting and prosecution of an industry that provides Americans with good middle class jobs with benefits is counterproductive. The U.S. Justice Department should not use the fewer resources it has to focus on targeting patients and dispensaries abiding by state law.”
UPDATE @ 9:43 A.M. THURSDAY: Piper this morning said the fact that most Democrats and nearly 30 Republicans voted for the amendment “shows that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are in political hot water for their attacks on patients and providers. We’ve seen major push-back from elected officials at the local and state level; now we’re seeing it at the national level.”
Asked how a slight drop from 2007’s support constitutes “major push-back,” he replied that yesterday’s vote “is still a third of the House, and when you break down the numbers, 7 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats voted for the amendment in 2007 and 11 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats voted for it last night.”
“Support is rising, but because Republicans are largely hostile and have more seats now than in 2007 the overall vote outcome looks similar,” he said. “Overall, I feel good. This was an amendment offered to a funding bill, with no hearing, and relatively little debate. So I consider the 163 to be the floor.”