All of the cool kids have jumped on the marijuana legalization bandwagon, even members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Last week, the House passed an appropriations amendment that bars the DEA from spending funds to arrest medical marijuana patients in states with legalized medical cannabis. The House approved the measure 219-189. The Senate will still have to concur in order for the policy to become law.

This won’t stop the DEA from targeting legalized recreational marijuana in Washington state or Colorado. And it won’t prevent the feds from talking other action, such as blocking water for marijuana cultivation. But the vote certainly represents a positive move forward in federal marijuana policy.

Of course, the feds showed up a little late to the party. California first legalized medical marijuana back in the mid-90s, and despite every federal effort to stop it, the movement endured and ultimately grew. Today, 22  states have legal medical marijuana and a majority of Americans support it. It was that pressure that forced the change in Washington D.C., not some miraculous flash of enlightenment in the hearts and minds of federal politicians. The actions of the people through their states finally drug Congress along with it.

Facing the abject failure of its prohibition of medical marijuana, members of Congress find themselves in the position of having to get with the program in order to look like the good guys. For years, the federal government tried to crush the medical marijuana movement. It couldn’t do it. The feds raided, bullied and sued in court. But states refused to back down. Make no mistake, no matter what Congress may or may no do, the federal government cannot stop medical marijuana.

Last fall was likely the DEA’s swan-song. Hoping to throw its weight around in advance of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington, the anti-drug agency mounted its biggest enforcement effort ever. The feds hit about 12 shops in Denver metro. That might sound pretty impressive until you consider that about 400 such businesses operate in the Denver area alone. In other words, the feds impacted about 3 percent of the medical marijuana businesses in Denver – one single city in a state of 5.2 million people. Based on numbers provided by Americans for Safe Access, those 12 raids cost the DEA some $15 million. The annual DEA budget runs about $2.87 billion. That means shutting down all of the dispensaries in Denver alone would cost more than twice the total DEA budget.

The feds lost the war on marijuana long ago. They know it. Now we get to watch Congress play catch-up.The will trip over each other desperately trying to position themselves on the “right” side of the issue.

We lead. They follow.

This demonstrates the effectiveness of attacking unwarranted federal acts from the bottom up. First, grassroots activist secured change in one state – California. From there, over the next 15 years, the movement spread from state to state. Only now have the politicians in D.C. caught up. Had the people not acted at the state level, we would have never seen this congressional vote last week. We now see the pressure from the bottom changing the policy at the top.

Top down efforts simply don’t work. Calling our representatives and senators to plead for legalization went nowhere for years. Counting on the federal courts to overturn the unconstitutional prohibition was fruitless. Federal elections changed nothing. Even in the early days of state action, it looked like the feds would never relent. They kept raiding. They kept arresting. They kept threatening. But after years of persistent, relentless nullification, we seeing D.C. turning.

This is how we do it. From the bottom up.


Mike Maharrey

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