Congress Blocks Feds From Targeting Medical Marijuana, Hemp Cultivation

12/10/2014 02:36 pm ET | Updated Dec 10, 2014

States with legal hemp cultivation and medical marijuana programs just got historic support from Congress.

Included in the federal spending bill released late Tuesday are amendments that prohibit the Department of Justice from using funds to go after state medical marijuana operations and that block the Drug Enforcement Administration from using funds to interfere in state-legal industrial hemp research.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who in May introduced the medical marijuana protections amendment with co-sponsor Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), told The Huffington Post Wednesday.

“This is a victory for so many, including scores of our wounded veterans, who have found marijuana to be an important medicine for some of the ailments they suffer, such as PTSD, epilepsy and MS," Rohrabacher added.

If passed, the bill would protect medical marijuana programs in the 23 states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, as well as 11 additional states that have legalized CBD oils, a non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that may be therapeutically beneficial in severe cases of epilepsy.

A number of studies in recent years have shown the medical potential of cannabis. Purified forms may attack some forms of aggressive cancer. Marijuana use also has been tied to better blood sugar control and may help slow the spread of HIV.

Still, under the Obama administration, the DEA and several U.S. attorneys have raided marijuana dispensaries that complied with state laws. The DEA still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance with "no currently accepted medical use."

But marijuana's "sober cousin," hemp, also received protections in the spending bill. Hemp is the same plant species as marijuana -- cannabis sativa -- but it contains little to no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana associated with the "high" sensation. The farm bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law in February, legalized industrial hemp production in states that permit it.

Eighteen states have legalized industrial hemp production, and more than a dozen others have introduced legislation that would authorize research, set up a regulatory framework or legalize the growing of industrial hemp.

The spending bill represents a last-minute effort by Congress to prevent a government shutdown after funding expires Thursday, and the medical marijuana and hemp sections are two of several political issues addressed in the omnibus bill.

“For the first time, Congress is letting states set their own medical marijuana and hemp policies, a huge step forward for sensible drug policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It’s not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed."

But it wasn't all victories for marijuana in the omnibus bill. The legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington, D.C., appears to be blocked. However, some have taken issue with the language used in the bill's marijuana rider, and argue that the measure, passed by 70 percent of District voters, should be able to stand on a technicality.

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