In an unexpected alliance that has left even marijuana advocates stunned, Republicans in the GOP-dominated house found themselves siding with Democrats, voting in an amendment that effectively bars the federal government from interfering with state laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The motion, which was passed on the strength of a 219-189 vote, was seen by many as a sign of wider spread acceptance of medical marijuana. This result came about even as the federal government continues to classify marijuana as a controlled substance that has “no accepted medical use” and that has a “high potential for abuse.”
The vote was passed on May 30, 2014 during a session in which a bill outlining the Justice Department’s budget was being debated. The amendment effectively bars the Justice Department from interfering with state laws that permit medical marijuana use, distribution, possession and cultivation, although it does not specifically address the recreational use of marijuana or its sale for such purposes. It should be noted that at the time of this writing, nearly half of all U.S. States have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and two of these states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized it for recreational purposes as well.
For many, the measure is a sign that marijuana is increasingly being accepted into mainstream society. Medical marijuana itself is now widely used for everything from pain relief and nausea control to an appetite stimulant for chemotherapy patients. Marijuana is also being used in a non-psychoactive form as a treatment for certain forms of epilepsy.
Not surprisingly, the legalization of medical marijuana is supported by most Democrats and even Independents. What is somewhat surprising is that an increasing number of Republicans support legalization as well, as suggested by a Pew Research Center survey. In the survey, 61% of Republican respondents said that they support the legalization of medical marijuana.
For Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), the survey results suggested a shift in public opinion with regard to medical marijuana. The GOP representative who proposed the House amendment, Rohrabacher also noted that despite what he called the “overwhelming shift” in public opinion, the federal government continues to implement a “hard line” policy against medical marijuana.
Although the amendment was opposed by nearly four out of five Republicans representatives, a number of GOP representatives such as Justin Amash (R-Michigan), Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), threw in their support with Rohrabacher and moderates such as Fred Upton (R-Michigan) and Jon Runyan (R-New Jersey).
Many now view the amendment as a definitive action that would help clarify the muddled legal issues surrounding medical marijuana. In a legal landscape in which medical marijuana was legalized in certain states, and yet was deemed illegal by the federal government, the new policy may be the long-awaited solution to the legal gray area in which providers and patients have been forced to operate since legalization was passed. Many also expect that the amendment, which is now due to be presented to the Senate for consideration, may finally put an end to an oppressive federal government policy that has resulted in the shutdown of legal dispensaries, as well as the seizure of marijuana stocks and cash.