Somewhere on Venice Beach, a job-creating medicinal marijuana dispenser just exhaled with relief. The House of Representatives just voted 219 to 189 to stop the Drug Enforcement Agency from using federal funds to crack down on state-licensed medicinal marijuana dispensaries.
This is only a small step for proponents of the medicinal marijuana. As The Huffington Post explains, the House vote was for an amendment to an appropriations bill. The Senate will probably consider its own appropriations bill, and then both chambers would have to approve the amendment.
What this does show is that more liberalized drug policies are growing increasingly popular among Republicans and Democrats. Though the bill passed largely thanks to Democrats, 49 Republicans also voted for it. While detractors paint this as a moral issue, supporters on the right point to states' rights and the need to support small businesses. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who offered the amendment, argued that in addition to the health benefits of marijuana, the amendment would also help business owners who currently live "in constant fear of having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night."
Specifically, this amendment would mean dispensaries wouldn't have to live in fear of the DEA and its anti-marijuana chief Michele Leonhart. In 2009 the Justice Department said it would stop going after dispensaries, but after Leonhart was renominated by President Obama and confirmed in 2010, the agency reversed course, as Rolling Stone explained in a 2012 feature on "Obama's War on Pot." Rep. John Conyers once criticized Leonhart for going after dispensaries with tactics "typically reserved for the worst drug traffickers and kingpins."
Leonhart and the DEA, however, still consider marijuana a dangerous drug with no medicinal purposes, and several members of Congress agree. "I don't think we should accept at all that this is history in the making," said Rep. John Fleming, a doctor against the amendment. The thing is, this is historic. As Vox noted Friday, this is the first time Congress has voted to protect medicinal marijuana businesses and users. Soon small business owners throughout the 22 states that legalized medicinal use might be able to sleep a little easier.