This Week In Congress Was Huge For Marijuana Supporters

House lawmakers in the nation's capital approved multiple pro-marijuana amendments in what was referred to as a "marijuana vote-a-rama" Wednesday, as a new Department of Justice (DOJ) budget was voted on.

The DOJ's budget, included in the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016, dictates how the agency can administer federal funding, including in the realm of marijuana enforcement. Included among appropriations amendments were several marijuana-related proposals staying the agency's hand in policing marijuana laws in states where it is legal––three of them were approved.

Advocates said that although similar amendments halting the DOJ from interfering with state pot laws were included in previous budgets, the agency continued to do so, and restrictions must go farther.

"While we have definitely seen a significant drop in federal interference with state marijuana laws during the second term of the Obama administration, the Department of Justice still believes it has the authority to harass state-legal businesses," Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority told ATTN:. "That's why it's so crucial that we get a big bipartisan vote on the amendment again this year," he said in the run-up to Wednesdays official vote.

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Advocates' calls for an end to federal interference were buttressed by multiple amendments from a variety of lawmakers during Wednesday's session. An amendment prohibiting the DOJ from using federal funds to police state medical pot laws from California Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R) and Sam Farr (D) passed, but an amendment addressing similar concerns for state laws in general––including states with legalized recreational use––from Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), narrowly failed.

Another amendment from Oregon Rep. Suzanna Bonamici (D) shielding state industrial hemp laws passed, as did Rep. Scott Perry's (R-PA), which protects limited state laws allowing the use of CBD oils––a non-psychoactive derivative of the plant––by children suffering from severe seizures.

The initiatives from Reps. Rohrabacher and Bonamici received significantly more votes than last year, and Angell told ATTN: that this is a good indication that lawmakers are bowing to public opinion. "Now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it's time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law. That's what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well."

"Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there's absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the law books any longer," he said.

In addition to Wednesday's outcomes, House lawmakers voted by voice Tuesday night to end the Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA) controversial bulk data collection programs, as well as to direct $23 million from the DEA's budget towards combating things like child abuse, processing backlogged rape kits, and funding body cameras for police departments––something advocates said was a much better use of taxpayer funds and DEA efforts.

"Almost anything would be a more effective use of taxpayer resources than paying DEA agents to arrest people for marijuana. Thanks to these amendments that succeeded in swiftly cutting $23 million from the drug agency in about 10 minutes of floor time, this money will be used for things that actually help people instead of being used to ruin people's lives for no good reason."

Restrictions on using federal funds to interfere with local marijuana laws were approved in 2014's DOJ budget as well, but the agency resisted, arguing that congressional restrictions don't apply to individual cases, despite push back from state lawmakers. Advocates said that this time around, budget cuts sent a much clearer message to an agency widely perceived to be out of step with support for relaxing marijuana laws coming from both the public and the Obama administration.

"The tide is turning," Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told ATTN:. "For years, a lot of people have considered the DEA to be an untouchable and all-powerful agency, and what is happening is their opposition to marijuana reform has been so intense that it is upsetting members of Congress. So we now have members of Congress in both parties cutting the agency's budget, rolling back its power, and hopefully, putting an end to the DEA's war on marijuana."

"I think Congress is sending DEA a very clear message: if you don't leave states alone, we're going to cut your budget. There's nothing that agency understands better than their bottom line. In many regards going after their budget is more effective than putting limitations on their power because they're really afraid of losing their money," he said.