Congress Votes to Protect Marijuana-Legal States

In groundbreaking decision on Thursday, Congress voted on a measure to protect marijuana-legal states from federal interference. As part of a larger funding bill for the 2020 fiscal year, the Blumenauer-Norton-McClintock Amendment stops the Department of Justice from spending money to intervene in states that have legalized cannabis for adult or medical use.

Reform advocates say this decision signals substantial progress in the fight against the Drug War. "The end of marijuana prohibition has never been closer," said Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. When a coalition of pro-reform allies initially began working on the amendment in 2015, the chances of it passing were slim, he recalled. "But we convinced members that this was the right thing to do, and four years on, victory is sweet. Now is the time for Democrats to pivot to passing legislation that will end prohibition through a racial justice lens, making sure that the communities most impacted by our racist marijuana laws have a stake in the future of legalization." Anything less, Collins added, would simply be another injustice.

The landslide win of 267 to 165 votes is arguably "the most significant vote on marijuana reform policy that the House of Representatives has ever taken," according to Justin Strekal, political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, who quoted by Tom Angell, who originally broke the news. The vote illustrates the growing popularity of cannabis law reform as less and less of a controversial issue among legislators on both sides of the aisle.

The measure is sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of Representatives, including Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). "It's past time we protect all cannabis programs," said Rep. Blumenauer, who also cofounded the Congressional Cannabis Caucus to advance marijuana law reform. "We have much more work to do. The federal government is out of touch and our cannabis laws are out of date."

The next step is to gain approval from the Senate to ensure these hard-won protections that honor the will of voters in more than half the United States, where adult use or medical cannabis is legal.

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