Despite a bipartisan plea to include protections for state-level marijuana programs in an up-and-coming DOJ funding bill, no such protections will be added in committee. That means lawmakers who want to force the DOJ to not interfere with state legal marijuana will have to make their case on the House floor.
Dozens of lawmakers had wanted to put guarantees in the funding bill that would prevent the DOJ from using its funds to interfere with state marijuana implementation and administration in any way, shape, or form. All they got was a guarantee that the DOJ would not interfere with medical cannabis programs.
That is half the equation, but not all of it. Should the other half be included? It’s a tough issue and one that many federal lawmakers continue to struggle with. After all, the law is the law.
Federal Prohibition Still Stands
As we all know, federal prohibition of marijuana still stands. Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance from coast-to-coast. Some lawmakers could see their way to turning a blind eye to medical cannabis programs, especially since much more dangerous drugs (like opioids) are legally prescribed. They cannot see their way to protecting recreational use because doing so forces them to violate the oath of office.
Every federal lawmaker takes an oath to defend and protect the Constitution. Until the Supreme Court rules otherwise, the federal government has constitutional authority to regulate marijuana. They have done just that, classifying it as an illicit substance some 50 years ago.
As such, telling the nation’s top law enforcement agency that it cannot use its funding to investigate and prosecute marijuana crimes is to openly admit that one is in favor of not upholding the law. Believe it or not, some lawmakers actually care about that.
The Goal Should Be Decriminalization
If the forty-four lawmakers who wanted pot protection added to the DOJ bill are sincere in their intentions, the right way to go about it is not to play games with budgets. It is to work their butts off to get decriminalization passed. That should be the goal.
If they were to succeed, what would they do about states’ rights? Would states, like Utah, be allowed to continue restricting cannabis to medical use only? Would the Beehive State still be able to tell Provo’s Deseret Wellness cannabis pharmacy that they can only sell to registered cardholders?
There is a long game here that lawmakers really need to think about. Whether they get what they want through budget manipulation or full decriminalization, legalizing marijuana across the country will have a ripple effect in every state, county, and local town.
Easier Said Than Done
Perhaps all this fretting is completely unwarranted. The Democrats in Congress were promising decriminalization within the first few months of the Biden administration. A year-and-a-half later, crickets. Even bipartisan bills calling for decriminalization and federal regulation haven’t managed to get enough traction to pass. No wonder the House lawmakers couldn’t get pot protections added to the DOJ funding bill.
Despite all the press and promises of getting something done, there just doesn’t seem to be enough of an appetite in Washington to change the status quo. Lawmakers are running out of time. Summer recess will be here before you know it, and then it is off to election season. And if the expected red wave comes to fruition, proponents can kiss decriminalization goodbye for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the DOJ will be able to use its funds to go after marijuana criminals at their leisure. Not that they will. But they can if they want to.