New Spending Bill Adopts Significant Changes to Federal Drug Policy

Congress passed on omnibus spending bill in December of 2015, which included some significant reforms and changes to federal drug policy. While the spending bill did not give advocates for marijuana-law reform everything they wanted, the spending bill did incorporate some important legislation that provides protection to patients who use medical marijuana. law-series-4-1467436.jpg

Although federal drug laws need significant reforms, the inclusion of various amendments and provisions in the Omnibus Bill are at least baby steps towards changing the burdensome federal laws which make criminals out of people who are in full compliance with their own state’s rules on medical marijuana use.

Federal Omnibus Spending Bill Incorporates Important Changes to Drug Laws

One of the most important drug-related provisions included in the Omnibus spending bill was a renewal of an amendment passed last year which precludes the Department of Justice from spending any money to block the implementation of marijuana-legalization laws on the state level. According to The Hill, this amendment prevents DOJ from taking any action to interfere both with state medical marijuana businesses and with hemp research projects.

The amendment blocking DOJ spending was cosponsored by Representatives Sam Farr and Dana Rohrabcher and had passed already on a temporary basis but had to be renewed. It was already cited by one federal judge when he threw out a marijuana criminal case the Department of Justice had brought against a marijuana dispensary. The amendment’s extension was very important in providing protections to people running marijuana businesses in California and in other states where medical marijuana is legal.

The bill also made another important change to federal drug policy by lifting a freeze on the spending of federal funds on needle exchange programs. This modification in long-standing policy shows federal lawmakers are finally beginning to take small steps towards focusing on effective solutions addressing drug use, rather than continuing to take draconian positions on all uses of narcotics.

While these two changes to federal drug policy are positive steps, the bill did not go far enough to modify federal drug laws and several different provisions were left out of the omnibus which advocates of marijuana legalization felt were important.

For example, congress failed to approve an amendment to the omnibus bill which would have made it easier for banks to provide services to marijuana businesses. Many of the businesses in the marijuana industry must operate on a cash-only basis and have a difficult time finding banks to provide services because of the fact marijuana remains illegal under federal law and banks are governed by federal law.

The omnibus also did not include a provision which would have made it possible for veterans to be prescribed and given access to medical marijuana. The fact these amendments were not included was disappointing, because both were approved by the senate

Finally, the Congress again included provisions within the omnibus bill which blocked Washington D.C. from regulating and taxing marijuana, which means the federal government is continuing to interfere with decisions in the District on marijuana even as some protections are offered to people and marijuana-related businesses in other locations.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

More Blog Entries:
Study: Teen Marijuana Use Not Linked to Health Trouble, Aug. 4, 2015, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog