THE BLOG

Justice Department Defying Congress, Breaking the Law on Medical Marijuana

04/03/2015 12:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2015
  • Bill Piper Drug Policy Alliance, Director of National Affairs
FREDERIC J. BROWN via Getty Images

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently told the Los Angeles Times that a bipartisan amendment passed by Congress last year prohibiting DOJ from spending any money to undermine state medical marijuana laws doesn't prevent it from prosecuting people for medical marijuana or seizing their property.

The statement comes as the agency continues to target people who are complying with their state medical marijuana law. This insubordination is occurring despite the fact that members of Congress in both parties were clear that their intent with the amendment was to protect medical marijuana patients and providers from federal prosecution and forfeiture.

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes. And 12 states have laws on the books regulating cannabidiol (CBD) oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children's seizures. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for non-medical use.

Last May, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic Congressman Sam Farr offered an amendment to a spending bill prohibiting the Justice Department from spending any money in 2015 to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

The Drug Policy Alliance worked to pass the amendment. Members of both parties took to the House floor in opposition to the prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers and in defense of states setting their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

The Republican-controlled House passed the amendment with most Democrats and 49 Republicans approving it. The amendment was backed in the Senate by Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Cory Booker and made it into the final "cromnibus" bill that was signed by President Obama in December. The spending restriction applies to fiscal year 2015 spending.

The House also passed three other amendments last year letting states set their own marijuana policies, but those amendments never made it into law. Polls show roughly three-quarters of Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use. A little more than half of voters support legalizing marijuana for non-medical use, in the same way alcohol is legal, taxed, and regulated.

Even though the spending restriction is a good restriction, the Department of Justice's actions show the need for changing federal law. Last month Drug Policy Alliance worked with Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Dean Heller (R-NV)to introduce bipartisan legislation to legalize marijuana for medical use.

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States - CARERS - Act is the first-ever bill in the U.S. Senate to legalize marijuana for medical use and the most comprehensive medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Congress. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introduced a House version of the bill last week.

The Justice Department is ignoring the will of the voters, defying Congress, and breaking the law. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder need to rein in this out-of-control agency.

Congress should respond to the Justice Department's insubordination by changing federal law. Patients and the people who provide them with their medicine will never be safe until states are free to set their own marijuana policy without federal interference.

Bill Piper is the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.