U.S.: Senate Spending Package Includes Major Marijuana Law Reforms
By Steve Elliott
A new package of spending bills from the Senate, intended to keep the federal government operational for the next year, includes several positive changes in marijuana law.
The bills were filed on Tuesday by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and they've just been uploaded to Congress's website, reports Marijuana.com.
The new spending package put forth by the top Senate appropriator "includes, well, everything us marijuana law reformers could have reasonably hoped for this year," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.
“We won bipartisan votes on all of these issues this year on either the House floor, in the Senate Appropriations Committee or both, so this is a rare case of Congressional leadership actually listening to their members — and to the American people," Angell said.
"Just a few short years ago, politicians used to jump all over each other to be seen as the ‘toughest’ on drugs," Angell said. "But now that polls consistently show that a growing majority of Americans support legalization, more elected officials are beginning to realize that scaling back failed prohibition policies is not only the right thing to do, but that it’s politically smart."
If enacted, the bills would:
• Prevent the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws; similar language was enacted last year, and is current law.
• Prevent the DoJ and the DEA from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs; similar language was enacted last year, and is current law.
• Allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana for military veterans, and prevent the VA from denying services to veterans because they are medicinal cannabis patients in accordance with state law.
• Prevent the federal government from punishing banks for doing business with state-legal marijuana providers.
• Allow the District of Columbia to move forward with enacting marijuana sales regulations that the mayor and local lawmakers have indicated they support, but have been stymied from implementing due to Congressional interference.
Cochran and other Senate leaders are currently negotiating with House Appropriations Committee leaders, and are expected to reach a compromise spending package sometime before government funding under current law runs out on Dec. 11.
Photo of Sen. Thad Cochran: United States Senate Committee on Appropriations