Late Saturday, the Senate approved an omnibus bill funding the federal government for the next year which contained two big provisions affecting marijuana policy. One very good and one very bad.
On the positive side: Protection for medical marijuana patients.
The funding bill contained a provision preventing the Department of Justice from using funds to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients or businesses that are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. Combined with the Obama administration taking a more hands off approach with regard to local marijuana laws, this new provision should provide added peace of mind and a sense of stability to both patients and providers.
Having Congress not longer actively opposing medical marijuana is a big victory for the reform movement, but not a complete solution. The provision is only a short-term and incomplete fix. Medical marijuana is still technically illegal under federal law which will continue to cause issues with things like taxes for medical marijuana business. The provision also only applies to this one year funding bill.
On the negative side: Assault on the democratic rights of people living in the District of Columbia.
Another provision buried in the omnibus bill is meant to prevent the District of Columbia from moving forward with marijuana legalization. Even though the 650,000 people living in D.C. are denied any vote in Congress, the federal government still has the ability to override any local laws. House Republican insisted on abusing this unfair and anti-democratic Constitutional power to try to stop marijuana legalization in D.C. despite it being adopted by almost 70 percent of District voters last month.
While President Obama claims to oppose the provision, he decided to effectively sacrifice the basic rights of 650,000 people to prevent government shutdown. If Obama really does oppose this assault on the very principles of democracy, he potentially has the power to give the D.C. government a legal way around this attempt to overturn the will of the voters. For example if Obama used his power to move marijuana to a lower schedule, this provision would technically no longer be an issue.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy, on sale for just $0.99