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Congress Votes to End War on Medical Marijuana

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Medical marijuana patients, rejoice. The federal government is no longer in fear of your (state-legal) reefer.

Late last night, Congress voted to essentially end the federal war on medical marijuana by approving a measure that prohibits the Department of Justice -- which includes the DEA, by the way -- from spending federal funds to fight state laws on medical cannabis. This means that if a state has legalized medical marijuana, the medical marijuana dispensaries are no longer subject to the threat of raids by the federal government, and patients and providers are no longer subject to arrest.

"It's becoming clearer and clearer that marijuana prohibition's days are numbered," says Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, who has been lobbying for support of the measure since 2003.

"Polls are consistently finding that a strong majority of Americans think marijuana should be legal, and an overwhelming majority support legal access to medical marijuana. It's nice to see more members of Congress standing up for their constituents instead of standing in the way of reform."

This change comes as a huge relief for state-legal medical marijuana facilities, who were, until this point, subject to raid by federal agents. And those raids weren't all threats, either. Federal agents made national headlines late last year for executing the largest multi-location raid to date in Colorado, during which at least 12 legal grow houses and dispensaries were targeted. Millions of dollars worth of pot plants and cash were confiscated, along with financial records, safes and computer data.

With the approval of this measure, facilities that are complying with state laws are no longer subject to outside raids by the federal government. While the change in policy does not legalize medical marijuana for states that still outlaw it, the approval of the measure is still a pretty big about-face for the federal government, considering recent history on the subject.

The measure, while newly approved, is not new to Congress. It has been offered seven times since 2003, but until now, the closest it came to being passed was in 2007, when it received a record high 165 votes. But the recent mainstreaming of cannabis culture seems to have affected even the staunchest opponents, with even the Republicans jumping on board, and the measure passed by a pretty legitimate margin of 219 to 189 this time.

Does this affect Texas, or states like Texas, that have outlawed medical marijuana? Not directly, no. But it does continue to close the gap between sensible marijuana policy and outright prohibition, and it allows for a more frank discussion on the subject. With Texas's recent whispers on the subject, the federal government's historic move may be just one more marker of what's to come for the nation.

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