Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal cannabis—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for cannabis sales in 2015.

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U.S.News.Com – Oklahoma 👍

Marijuana reform advocates hope Oklahoma will live up to its nickname – the Sooner State – by becoming the first U.S. jurisdiction to both legalize cannabis for personal use and allow it to be exported as a cash crop.

In the best-case scenario for pro-marijuana campaigners, there will be two initiatives on the November ballot: One that would allow medical marijuana and another more far-reaching initiative that would comprehensively dismantle status quo pot policies.

The medical marijuana initiative is further along. On May 18 supporters will begin collecting the required 155,216 signatures for ballot access – if opponents do not file a challenge with the state’s supreme court.

The outright legalization initiative is currently being finalized and its backers – led by state Sen. Connie Johnson, a Democrat – hope to file it with the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office as early as Friday.

“There is quiet, silent support, not only because our laws are ridiculous but because people either have used it or know someone who has, and all of the doomsday expectations just are not true,” says Johnson.

If the initiative makes the ballot and wins approval by voters it would legalize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use by adults 21 and older – or 1.5 ounces for doctor-approved medical use. It would allow residents to grow six plants at home.

The initiative would also reduce penalties for people possessing more than 1 ounce and for adults aged 18-21 by erasing from the books a state law that makes possession of any amount of marijuana a felony after a person is convicted of a first offense.

Localities would be able to regulate the location of recreational marijuana stores, but unlike Colorado’s legalization law they would not be allowed to block stores altogether. Unlike Washington state’s legalization law, residents will be able to give – but not sell – cannabis to friends.

Out of concern for low-income residents, the tax rate would be roughly in line with the state sales tax.

In what would be the most groundbreaking part of the package, the initiative would allow commercial farms to export marijuana to states where it’s legal for recreational or medicinal use.

“Oklahoma could be an agriculture state for marijuana,” says Oklahoma City defense attorney David Slane, who wrote the initiative with Johnson.

Slane says “instead of us just growing wheat, we could grow marijuana – it could be a real crop,” ideally boosting the state’s economy.

“It could be cultivated, packaged and sold right here in Oklahoma, and our law would allow it to be transported to other states where it is legal. That’s all we say in our law,” he says.

There are “a lot of questions we don’t have the answer to” about how the export business would work, Slane says, particularly how marijuana would be transported through states where it remains illegal. He says that issue would likely be resolved with input from the U.S. Department of Justice.