The U.S. House voted early today to prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors from going after medical marijuana in states where it's legal — with all five Oregon Congress members, including conservative Republican Greg Walden, voting aye.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., attached the language as an amendment to a bill that would fund the U.S. Justice Department. The amendment required and got bipartisan support, passing 219 to 189, with 49 Republicans teaming up with 170 Democrats to approve the measure shortly after midnight.
Calls to the Washington office of Walden — usually a foe of pot liberalization — were not immediately returned.
"I think it says we're finally getting through to the Republican Party," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group. "It has always confused me when people refer to this as a liberal issue. William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman were supporters of marijuana reform, and medical marijuana in particular. It's about reducing the size and scope of government, getting government out of the doctor-patient relationship, and letting states be laboratories of democracy rather than a one-size-fits-all federal mandate."
As a result of the vote, "Congress is officially pulling out of the war on medical marijuana patients and providers," he said.
While the federal government's official position is that marijuana is a drug with no medical value, 22 states now allow medical marijuana, with Minnesota the latest to approve it this week when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill into law.
Kevin Sabet, who heads the anti-legalization group Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) said the House vote would make it harder for the federal government to pursue illegal activity.
"No one wants to arrest cancer patients, but as it is, we know Colombian cartels are connected to selling marijuana under the guise of medicine and that marijuana is proliferating on public lands," he said. "We're also witnessing a train wreck in places like Colorado. This amendment hurts our ability to go after traffickers and producers, and I think a lot of members didn't fully realize that when they voted for it."
The measure still faces an uncertain fate in the current Congress. No similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
— Staff and wire reports