- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The House voted Wednesday to ban federal drug agents from pursuing people who use medicinal marijuana where its legal, although a parallel and unprecedented effort to shield all state pot laws fell short by just 16 votes.

Lawmakers voted 242-186 to lay off medicinal pot, while a bid to defer to any state law that authorizes the drug’s cultivation, use or sale was defeated, 206 votes to 222.

Although marijuana use is illegal under federal law, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational use, while 23 states, D.C. and Guam have medicinal pot programs.

Proponents of looser pot laws say the drug is less harmful than alcohol and that it’s far better to regulate its sale than to let it fester, unchecked, on the black market.

For a second time, the House shackled federal enforcement in states that have authorized medicinal pot use by amending its bill to fund the Justice and Commerce departments and science programs for the coming year.

“Now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it’s time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. “That’s what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well.”

Although broader protections fell short, advocates hailed the close vote as a sign that attitudes are changing.

Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, cast his amendment to shield recreational use as a check on federal power instead of an ambitious foray into drug policy.

“We have the opportunity to watch what comes of various state policies on this issue and benefit from that experience. That’s what federalism is all about,” he said in a phone interview.

Supporters in both parties said it made little sense to exhaust limited federal dollars on people who toke up in states where it’s legal, either for medical or recreational purposes.

Opponents of both measures, however, said marijuana reduces memory, IQ and ambition and causes “profound brain changes” among users, especially children.

“The idea of medical marijuana is a joke,” Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican, said in late-night debate prior to Wednesday’s daytime votes. “It’s an end-run around the laws. There are more pot shops in California than there are Starbucks or McDonald’s.”

Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado Democrat, unloaded on the southerner, saying he wouldn’t like it if the feds cracked down on Louisiana’s less-than-healthful — yet quite legal — fondness for crayfish.

“What if it’s fried? Might clog your arteries, huh? Bet that’s not good for you,” he said. “Want me to send federal troops down there?”

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