All eyes were on the federal government last week, as Congress moved to use an omnibus spending bill to outlaw recreational marijuana sales in Washington D.C., while using the same measure to ban drug enforcement cronies overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice from spending tax dollars to shakedown the medical marijuana community. Some advocates suggest last week’s freak occurrence could be a sign the federal government is preparing to end the war on marijuana, while others worry there is still too much hypocrisy in the bloodline on Capitol Hill for them to put down their weapons anytime soon.
Meanwhile, a couple of states made significant progress in legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016. Read all about what happened in the realm of American pot legislation last week right here in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: December 15.
Federal: No More Harassing the Medical Marijuana Industry
Congress approved an omnibus spending bill last week that will prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from spending tax dollars to cause trouble for the medical marijuana community. This historical move, which will put an end to DEA raids on medical marijuana operations as well do away with criminal prosecutions and revamp laws associated with the forfeiture of civil assets, could be a jumping off point in the grand scheme of nationwide pot reform.
“This is truly a long-fought victory for medical marijuana patients who have lived in fear of being caught in the crossfire of conflicting state and federal laws for nearly two decades,” Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, said in a statement. “But this is also a victory for taxpayers because of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved on unnecessary and harmful enforcement.”
The measure is now set to go before President Obama for his signature, which advocates believe he will do. Reports indicate the Obama Administration has spent in upwards of $80 million per year to harass the medical marijuana industry.
Marijuana Legalization on Native American Land
The U.S. Department of Justice released a memo last week calling for U.S. Attorneys to turn a blind eye to pot cultivation and sales on Native American land. Effective immediately, pot prohibition no longer exists in territories inhabited by tribes recognized by the federal government, as long as they adhere to a handful of regulations, including not selling to minors and not smuggling it into areas where it remains illegal.
This new law will ultimately made weed legal in 36 states by allowing Native American tribes to establish a recreational cannabis trade and reap the financial rewards without fear of prosecution.
Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana in Washington DC
Perhaps the most controversial news last week was Congress attaching a rider to an omnibus spending bill that blocked the recently passed Initiative 71, which legalized recreational marijuana in the District of Columbia. The wording of the rider states that the District cannot use local or federal funds “to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.” The passing of this spending bill essentially overrides the voice of the voters from November’s general election and castrates the measure before it gets a fair hearing.
“This rider is an affront to the concept of democracy,” NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, said in a statement “Seven out of 10 voters in Washington, D.C. cast their ballot in favor of ending prohibition and legalizing the adult possession and limited cultivation of marijuana, this attempt to flout the will of the people is a gross injustice to these voters and to the democratic system.”
However, while it looks as though Initiative 71 is heading to an early grave, some supporters believe the measure still has a chance of survival. The federal government is blocking new marijuana laws from being enacted under the spending bill, but since voters passed Initiative 71 in early November – should it be grouped in with the ban?
“Initiative 71 was enacted on November 4 when 70% of DC voters approved it, said Bill Piper, with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Voters wanted to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system and focus police resources on serious and violent crime. The will of the people should stand. While Initiative 71 won’t take effect until after the Council transmits it to Congress in January and it goes through an administrative 30-day review period, it has very clearly already been enacted by the voters.”
Supporters are still expected to turn Initiative 71 over to Congress for review in January.
Missouri: Bill to Nullify Federal Pot Prohibition
State Representative Brandon Ellington pre-filed a bill with the Missouri state legislature that would deem marijuana prohibition to be unconstitutional and eliminate it through constitutional amendment. House Joint Resolution 15 is expected to be officially introduced in early 2015, and if it finds its way through the state House and Senate it will become an initiative to be included on the 2016 ballot.
The bill reads as follows: “In the interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes, and individual freedom, the people of the state of Missouri find and declare that the use of marijuana should be legal for persons twenty-one years of age or older and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.”
Supporters of the bill are encouraging Missouri residents to contact their state representatives as urge them to co-sponsor HJR15.
Nevada: Initiative to Legalize Marijuana Certified for 2016 Ballot
The Secretary of State has certified the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the campaign hoping to legalize marijuana in Nevada, for the 2016 ballot. The state legislature will now have a chance to review the initiative and either decide to pass the measure or simply allow it to go before voters in 2016. Either way, recreational marijuana is likely coming to Sin City in the near future.
Nevada joins an ever-growing list of states with marijuana legalization on the 2016 ballot,” says Major Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Marijuana prohibition has put countless otherwise innocent people in jail and increased street violence just as alcohol prohibition did in the 1920s. Nevada is ready to prioritize public safety and we look forward to seeing their state and others responsibly regulate marijuana so that law enforcement can focus on more pressing crimes.”