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.



A bill to legalize marijuana for a wide range of medical purposes was introduced Thursday in West Virginia.

The proposed law, HB 4264, would allow people with “debilitating medical conditions” to possess up to six ounces of marijuana and 24 cannabis plants to treat their symptoms — as long as they have written certification from a physician.

Only 12 of the 24 plants may be mature at a time, and all must be cultivated in an enclosed, locked space. Alternately, the law would allow patients to designate “caregivers” to cultivate their 24 allotted plants for them. Each caregiver could grow marijuana for up to five patients.

According to the bill, “debilitating medical conditions” include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, and addiction to opiates or amphetamines.

It also allows for state-regulated dispensaries to provide medical marijuana for patients. As the Marijuana Policy Project’s Legislative Analyst Matt Simon pointed out, West Virginia’s proposed law calls for five so-called “compassion centers” to be set up in the first year the law is in effect, with another nine to follow the year after.

“Since the dawn of time, people have been using roots and herbs for medicines,” state Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor), who introduced the bill, previously told the Register Herald. “We need to address medical marijuana.”

Whether the bill passes remains to be seen. This is the fourth time that Manypenny has tried to pass such a bill through the West Virginia Legislature, and some state lawmakers remain opposed to the effort.

“We already have enough problems with prescription drugs,” state Sen. Donna Boley (R-Pleasants) told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel. “We would be opening the door for more problems.”

Opponents of medical marijuana say the drug has a high potential for abuse and that loosely written laws allow people to exploit loopholes in order to get high.

So far, 20 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized cannabis for medical purposes. Other states are on their way: New York recently announced it would let patients with serious illnesses use marijuana, and bills to legalize cannabis are being considered in states including Maryland, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Alaska.