Colorado Republicans vote to fund fed war on medical marijuana

An amendment to the U.S. House Appropriations Bill that would have required the Department of Justice to stand down in pursuing cases against the medical marijuana industry failed Wednesday night on a mostly party line vote. Colorado’s seven-member delegation split on the amendment, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against.

The Hinchey-Rohrabacher-Farr-McClintock Amendment:

None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

The final vote was 163-262, with 72 percent of Democrats in favor of the amendment but only 28 Republicans voting yes. Delegations from most of the states with medical marijuana did vote in favor.

More than a dozen states, including Colorado, have legalized medical marijuana, yet the federal Department of Justice continues to take the position that marijuana is illegal for any and all purposes and continues to pursue selective enforcement of federal laws irrespective of state laws.

In Colorado, U.S. Attorney John Walsh has acted to shut down dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries that were in compliance with state law but that he viewed as being too close to schools.

Rep. Jared Polis (Kersgaard)

While all of Colorado’s Democrats in the House voted to defund the DOJ’s efforts to supersede state law, only Jared Polis, D-Boulder, has been outspoken on the issue, sponsoring legislation to remove marijuana laws from federal jurisdiction and speaking out strongly against DOJ interference in state medical marijuana regulation.

In a speech on the House floor, Polis said the amendment was “critical for Colorado” where businesses and patients “live under constant fear of selective enforcement from the attorney general or the Department of Justice.”

Polis accounted a recent conversation he had with AG Eric Holder, where Holder acknowledged that with so many medical marijuana patients and businesses, the only kind of enforcement possible is “selective.”

“What if that selective enforcement becomes politically motivated? That is a very dangerous road to go down,” Polis said.

He noted that drug abuse is a terrible problem, but that it is the corner drug dealer who sells to 15-year-olds, not state-regulated dispensaries.

“This amendment is commonsense. It will allow legal businesses to operate without fear of the DEA busting their doors down,” Polis said.

“This amendment would have done a lot of good,” said Morgan Fox, spokesperson for the national Marijuana Policy Project. “It would have prevented the feds from going after medical marijuana businesses that are in compliance with state law.

“Congress is out of touch on this issue, not seeing that marijuana reform is a very popular issue with voters these days,” he added.

Fox said he found it “amazing” that Republicans in Congress didn’t take this opportunity to “rebuke an unpopular policy of President Obama’s.”

Local marijuana attorney and supporter of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Brian Vicente said he was also disappointed.

“That law would have made a big difference. It would have been a concrete step toward stopping federal intrusion into the state’s medical marijuana laws,” Vicente said. “This federal intrusion is making it difficult for patients to get their medicine.

“There seems to be a disconnect between the people and their representatives in Congress, especially the Republicans. Voters should be angry at Republicans in Congress who say they are for states’ rights and smaller government, but won’t stand up for those things when they get the chance,” Vicente said.

Former Speaker of the House and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, recently released this statement supporting states’ rights on medical marijuana and questioning why the DOJ and the Obama Administration have been actively targeting businesses that are in compliance with state laws.

“Access to medicinal marijuana for individuals who are ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is both a medical and a states’ rights issue. Sixteen states, including our home state of California, and the District of Columbia have adopted medicinal marijuana laws – most by a vote of the people.

Nancy Pelosi (Tomasic)

“I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana.

“Proven medicinal uses of marijuana include improving the quality of life for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other severe medical conditions.

“I am pleased to join organizations that support legal access to medicinal marijuana, including the American Nurses Association, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, and the AIDS Action Council.

“Medicinal marijuana alleviates some of the most debilitating symptoms of AIDS, including pain, wasting, and nausea. The opportunity to ease the suffering of people who are seriously ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is an opportunity we must not ignore.

“For these reasons, I have long supported efforts in Congress to advocate federal policies that recognize the scientific evidence and clinical research demonstrating the medical benefits of medicinal marijuana, that respects the wishes of the states in providing relief to ill individuals, and that prevents the federal government from acting to harm the safe access of medicinal marijuana provided under state law. I will continue to strongly support those efforts.”

(Image of dispensary: Kersgaard)

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About the Author

Scot Kersgaard

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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