In the rush to get out of Washington for the holiday, Pollyanna-ish lawmakers used the year-end government funding bill to kill almost every new proposal to continue the state-led effort to basically make marijuana the national plant. As in: States are embracing greenery, while members of Congress are still hiding their stashes.
Even a few years ago talk of sanctioning the use of weed was seen as a fringe issue in Washington, and the strength of the nationwide movement isn’t lost on even the stuffiest suit at the Capitol.
But still, the majority of those suits just weren’t ready loosen up.
The last-minute budget deal continued the prohibition on allowing weed to be regulated like alcohol in the nation’s capital.
(Now, it’s technically illegal to sell or buy weed in D.C. because of the limitations Congress has put on the federal city. But it’s fine if you have a couple ounces on you.)
But the bad news extends beyond D.C. and into states with the lenient marijuana policies.
Another provision that was stripped out of the spending bill behind closed doors would have allowed growers and businesses in states where pot is legal to access the banking system. Currently, banks fear prosecution for dealing with marijuana businesses. Once again, by cutting the banking language, Congress supported maintaining the Wild Wild West, even as marijuana business owners are begging to pay taxes and turn their large cash holdings over to banks.
Yet another piece that was ingloriously left on the drafting room floor would have been a game changer for medical marijuana and, potentially, for the nation’s wounded veteran population.
The provision would have allowed Veterans Affairs’ doctors in states where medicinal marijuana is legal to prescribe weed to veterans.
The removal of that one really stung advocates.
“That’s a shame that that was stripped out,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) told The Daily Beast. “Because VA doctors can prescribe much harsher narcotic drugs than marijuana, including highly addictive painkillers, so in cases where marijuana might work and it’s a milder narcotic option, its use should surely be considered.”
But it’s not all coal for pot proponents in 2015.
For one, you know it’s a new day in Washington when top staffers for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, and the heads of the powerful spending committees at the Capitol are even discussing relaxing marijuana laws, as they did while debating what provisions to include and which to cut in the year-end government funding bill.
Legalization proponents say they also won key battles on the House floor, and narrowly lost a few battles that could portend well for weed’s future.
Back in June the full House voted to prohibit the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. In a major change from years past, 67 Republicans supported it, according to the advocacy group Marijuana Majority.
Proponents saw this as a sea change.
“We had no leverage behind the scenes except what the conferees thought were issues of importance,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told The Daily Beast. “And they considered ours important enough, passed by both houses of Congress, to include.”
Lawmakers are still applying pressure to the Drug Enforcement Administration to fully abide by their legislative language.
“If the DEA continues to prosecute medical marijuana people in those states where the state has legalized it, it is the DEA that is the criminal,” Rohrabacher said, using words that could have lost him his seat a few years ago. “The DEA is breaking the law. I’ve had to write several letters to judges indicating that. Our intent is clear.”
And this year a vast majority of House lawmakers—nearly 300, including 118 from the GOP—voted to ban the Department of Justice from trying to block states from giving marijuana oils to mostly children suffering from epilepsy.
“It was a great year, because we did very well on floor votes. We won every floor vote except for one and we lost that one narrowly,” Polis said, referring to the veterans provision. “So on all the key issues, I’m confident that a majority of the House of Representatives agrees that states should have increased discretion to regulate marijuana as they see fit.”
The intent of the pot proponents of Capitol Hill is clear. What’s unclear is if anyone—even the government agents tasked with carrying out Congress’ policy—is listening.