House Bill Blocks Feds From Enforcing Marijuana Ban In States That Legalized Recreational, Medical Weed

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Legislation to fund much of the federal government in the new year passed the House Friday after lawmakers first voted to prevent the Justice Department from enforcing the federal ban on marijuana in states that have legalized the drug.

The vote was 217-197, largely along party lines. The Senate is drafting its own spending bill and then the two versions must be reconciled.

Before final passage, the House approved an amendment stopping the Justice Department from spending any money to enforce the federal ban on cannabis in states that allow either medical or recreational marijuana.

“The American people are demanding a change to our outdated cannabis laws and I am glad to see my colleagues heeding their calls,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

New Jersey voters will decide this fall whether to legalize recreational weed.

The amendment passed, 254-163, with the support of 31 Republicans. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., was one of only six Democrats to vote no, while the state’s two GOP lawmakers, 2nd District Rep. Jeff Van Drew and 4th District Rep. Chris Smith, also opposed the amendment.

The other nine New Jersey House members voted yes.

Gottheimer joined the other nine Democrats from the Garden State in supporting the final bill, including the cannabis provision, while Van Drew and Smith joined every other House Republican in voting no.

For years, Congress has supported the right of states to legalize medical marijuana, but last year the House for the first time voted to block the federal government from interfering with states that allow cannabis for recreational use. That provision was dropped during negotiations with the Senate.

Kevin Sabet, president and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, criticized the House action.

“It is disheartening to see the House bend to the demands of the marijuana industry,” Sabet said. “Numerous recent, peer-reviewed studies have made the case we should be pumping the brakes on expanding this industry, an industry thriving off of predatory marketing tactics and increasing substance misuse in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods.”

The legislation encompassed six of the 12 spending bills that must be passed annually to keep the federal government open, and covers the 12-month federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.