Two members of the Massachusetts delegation in Washington, D.C., voted against an amendment this week that would prevent the Department of Justice from going after legitimate medical marijuana operations in states that allow the use of the drug for patients with debilitating diseases.
Congressman Joseph Kennedy III and Congressman William Keating were among lawmakers that did not support a measure that would bar federal investigators from using funds to rush in and essentially dismantle medical marijuana facilities that are distributing and selling the plant for patient needs.
None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to prevent…such states from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.
The amendment was part of a multi-billion dollar appropriations bill considered by the House of Representatives this week. While elected leaders voted in favor of the amendment, Kennedy and Keating were among 172 Republicans and 15 Democrats that voted against it.
A statement from Kennedy’s office said that while the congressman “understands the relief” patients get from the use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts, as a former prosecutor, he believes that reforms made to the regulation process of any drug must be approached carefully. “Across the country, several state-level efforts to loosen restrictions on marijuana have been prone to abuse and mismanagement. He voted against yesterday’s amendment in order to avoid the creation of a patchwork drug policy that would have broad implications on everything from law enforcement to health care,” a spokesperson from his office said.
Keating, in defense of his vote, said the amendment puts the cart before the horse, and that’s why he didn’t support it. “We don’t yet have comprehensive distribution policies in place and law enforcement has a role in holding dispensaries to appropriate consumer protections. More importantly, the federal government has the ability to monitor alcohol, tobacco, and firearms even though each state has their own regulations for those. I don’t believe we should be carving out a special exemption for medical marijuana,” he said.
The pro-medical marijuana amendment, which had bipartisan approval, was submitted and sponsored by Representative Dana Rohrabacher, of California. “This is historic,” said Rohrabacher. “A victory for states’ rights, for the doctor-patient relationship, for compassion, for fiscal responsibility. This vote shows that House members really can listen to the American people, form coalitions, and get things done.”
Rohrabacher said “the landmark legislation” marks a turning point where for the first time a majority of House members voted to lessen restrictions on marijuana. A similar proposal is expected to go before the Senate sometime this summer.
Tom Angell, chairman of the organization the Marijuana Majority, said this “historic vote” shows how quickly marijuana reform has become a hot topic. “The last time a similar amendment came up it didn’t come very close to passing but, since then, more states have passed medical marijuana laws and a couple have even legalized marijuana for all adults,” he said. “It’s clear that more politicians are beginning to realize that the American people want the federal government to stop standing in the way. If any political observers weren’t aware that the end of the war on marijuana is nearing, they just found out.”
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