Bipartisan House bill would shield marijuana use

A California House Republican has introduced his latest of many bipartisan attempts to shield people using marijuana in compliance with their states’ laws from federal arrest and prosecution.

H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, would protect those operating under medical-marijuana laws in 18 states including California plus the District of Columbia, or under the recreational legalization laws enacted last year in Colorado and Washington state.

“This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states’ marijuana laws,” Rohrabacher said in a news release. “It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don’t want it to be criminal.”

Rohrabacher and former Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., six times over the past decade had offered an amendment to bar the Justice Department from spending money to arrest and prosecute those using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws. Their high-water mark was 165 “aye” votes in 2007; last year’s vote was 163-262.

But Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said Friday that this new bill is more substantive because it actually changes federal law, exempting those who follow their state’s marijuana law – medicinal or otherwise – from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“This bill takes conservative principles and applies them to marijuana policy; in terms of the national debate it’s potentially a game-changer,” he said.

This bill’s original cosponsors are Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Don Young, R-Ark.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Polis, Blumenauer, Rohrabacher and others also earlier this year introduced H.R. 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would set up a federal regulatory process for states that choose to legalize.

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.