Late last month, the U.S. House voted to defund DEA medical marijuana raids in Colorado and other states that have legalized MMJ -- an unprecedented development that was greeted with cheers by many cannabis reformers.
But the next step in the legislative process -- passage by the U.S. Senate -- hit a snag despite support by two extraordinarily odd political bedfellows: Kentucky's Rand "Son of Ron" Paul, a firebrand touted in many quarters as a 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, and New Jersey's Cory Booker, a liberal Democrat and unapologetic pal of President Barack Obama.
Last Thursday, Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, announced that the Paul-Booker amendment to the the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act might see action that day or the next.
In expectation of this exciting event, Riffle released the following statement: "Poll after poll shows 70-80 percent of Americans support medical marijuana. Even among conservatives, most oppose enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where marijuana is legal for some purpose. Having two rising stars like Rand Paul and Cory Booker team up to introduce this amendment just shows how popular the issue has become, and that our outdated federal marijuana laws are inevitably going to change."
Shortly thereafter, however, the wheels of bureaucracy ground to a halt, with Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, delaying the main bill because, Politico reports, she felt "caught between White House veto threats and Republican amendments."
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"It had nothing to do with our amendment," Riffle stresses. "And hopefully, some kind of agreement will be brokered and the amendment will get a vote."
If peace isn't reached, the amendment may still have life: Some technical machinations could bring it back in another form. Still, Riffle believes "this is something we think should be enshrined in law, and not just as an appropriations amendment." So should the amendment process falter, "we'd like to see it as a standalone piece of legislation."
How might a bill on this topic fare? Even Riffle isn't sure, since this would mark its maiden voyage in the Senate.
"Everybody in the Senate assumed it would never get passed in the House," he acknowledges, because "everyone incorrectly believed it's a liberal issue. But there's a strong argument that it's actually a conservative issue -- and it's certainly a bipartisan issue."
The fact that ideological opposites such as Paul and Booker agree on the concept is evidence of this last claim. Moreover, columnist Michelle Malkin and other far-right notables have become increasingly outspoken about their support of legal medical marijuana.
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In Riffle's view, "marijuana laws should be left up to the states -- and it's very clear that more and more states are going to follow Colorado's lead. We need to let states be laboratories for democracy -- see what policies work and don't work. And will only be able to do that if the federal government gets out of the way."
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Marijuana archive circa May 30: "U.S. House votes to defund DEA medical marijuana raids in Colorado, other MMJ states."