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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Congress of two minds about legal pot

The U.S. Department of Justice has been ordered to stop making trouble for individuals and businesses that take advantage of state medical marijuana laws. However, the demand, attached to the $1.1 trillion federal budget bill that was signed into law Dec. 16, 2014, is not a total condemnation of the federal government's efforts to stamp out marijuana legalization initiatives.

"It merely restricts the use of funds in a one-year budget bill," noted a web post by the National Law Review. "The bill does not exempt marijuana has as an illegal Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act."

In fact, the very same bill includes a provision that blocks Washington, D.C., from implementing a local referendum legalizing possession of marijuana there. Washington, a city of almost 700,000, is a "federal district" under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress, which can veto any local laws.

A budgetary maneuver

Typically when the voters of the "district" approve controversial laws opponents will attempt to invalidate those measures with budgetary maneuvers. Tucked into the 701 page budget bill signed into law last week was a provision stating: "None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used 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."

The budget bill is an omnibus package of legislation that appropriates funds for federal agencies and programs through Sept. 30, 2015. It was a must-pass bill, because without operating funds the government would have had to shut down. Often lawmakers will use a must-pass bill such as a budget measure to advance initiatives that might lack support to pass on their own. Appropriately enough, these omnibus legislative initiatives are known as "Christmas trees" among Washington insiders.

The budget bill provision addressing medical marijuana addresses funds appropriated to the Department of Justice, and specifically refers to medical marijuana laws in 12 states and Washington, D.C. It instructs that no funds appropriated to Justice Department "may be used" to prevent those states and Washington "from implementing their own State laws that authorized the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."

Last year, the Justice Department stated it would back off efforts to challenge state laws legalizing recreational pot use, provided those states establish strong regulatory regimens. end of article

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