In Series of Historic Votes U.S. House Prohibits DEA from Undermining State Medical Marijuana and Hemp Laws

Press Release May 29, 2014
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper 202-669-6430</p>

In a series of historic votes, the U.S. House voted to prohibit the DEA from undermining state marijuana laws. The House approved a bipartisan measure prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws; the amendment passed with 219 yes votes. An amendment prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp production laws passed with 237 yes votes. An amendment prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp research programs passed with 246 yes votes.

“Each of these votes represents a major victory for those seeking more sensible marijuana policies,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Taken together, they represent an unprecedented change in course in the war on drugs. For years state after state has reformed their drug laws; now there’s a bipartisan consensus in Congress in favor of letting states set their own marijuana policies.”

There will be a teleconference with members of Congress, medical marijuana patients and advocates to discuss the historic votes.

What: Press Teleconference

When: Friday May 30th at Noon ET

Location: Contact Tony Newman (646-335-5384) for call-in information


The medical marijuana amendment was offered by six Republicans and six Democrats: Reps. Rohrabacher (R-CA), Farr (D-CA), Young (R-AK), Blumenauer (D-OR), McClintock (R-CA), Cohen (D-TN), Broun (R-GA), Polis (D-CO), Stockman (R-TX), Lee (D-CA), Amash (R-MI) and Titus (D-NV).

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly three-in-four Americans (72%) believe that efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth, including 78% of independents, 71% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans. There is strong support for state medical marijuana programs, with 80% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans supporting the sale and use of medical marijuana in their state.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes:  Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.   Ten states have laws on the books or about to be signed into law by their governors regulating CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children’s seizures: Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin.

The bipartisan amendment prohibiting the DEA from blocking domestic hemp production was offered by Rep. Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Massie (R-KY). The bipartisan amendment prohibiting the DEA from undermining state hemp research programs was offered by Rep. Massie (D-KY), Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). Hemp is not legal to grow in the U.S. under federal law, though hemp products can be produced and sold in the U.S. Some states have made its cultivation legal, but these states – North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, California, Montana, West Virginia and Vermont – have not yet begun to grow it because of resistance from the DEA.

A few months ago, Congress legalized the production of hemp for research purposes in states that want to allow it.  But when Kentucky recently tried to import hemp seeds to begin production, the DEA seized the seeds.  Kentucky officials, including Kentucky Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were angered.

The votes are an embarrassment for the DEA and DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart who is under increasing pressure to step down. Earlier this month the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General launched investigations into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, controversial uses of confidential informants, airline passenger searches, and sexual misconduct. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.

“DEA Administrator Leonhart is virtually the only person left who still zealously supports the failed war on drugs,” said Piper. “These votes are her wake up call. It is time for her to go.”

Leonhart contradicts drug policy reforms being pursued by her bosses, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. She publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and has spoken out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama Administration is supporting. Attorney General Eric Holder recently scolded her. Criminal justice reformers have said Leonhart lacks the ability to lead and should resign. Activists are using the Twitter hashtag #FireLeonhart.

Leonhart has also actively obstructed scientific research, most notably blocking the FDA drug development process for marijuana by refusing to license potential producers of federally-approved research-grade marijuana — such as Dr. Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, who first applied to the DEA in 2001 to produce marijuana for FDA-approved research. The DEA's Administrative Law Judge held extensive hearings on the issue and ruled that the DEA should end the federal government's monopoly on research-grade marijuana by granting Dr. Craker a Schedule One license, but Leonhart unilaterally blocked it. She has also blocked efforts to move marijuana from Schedule I, the same classification as heroin, to a lower schedule that would allow for medical use.

Rep. Steve Cohen and other members have Congress have called on Leonhart to resign. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., says in his dealings with Leonhart he has "found her to be completely incompetent and unknowledgeable." In a bizarre debate with members of Congress Leonhart refused repeatedly to acknowledge that marijuana is safer than cocaine and heroin.

Just last September, more than 120 groups from across the political spectrum and around the globe, including the ACLU, Witness for Peace, Drug Policy Alliance, and the International Drug Policy Consortium sent a letter to Congress and the DOJ calling for an investigation into the DEA for its role in a long list of deeply disturbing incidents. 

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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