Congress signals change in medical marijuana policies

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – For years, states like California have been at odds with the federal government over medical marijuana, but a provision in the recently approved Congressional Spending bill is sending a different message.

The message suggests the federal government willing to give states a little more leeway.

First, there is no change in the federal drug law. Marijuana is still classified as a schedule one controlled substance, and it is illegal.

In California, and the other 31 states and the District of Columbia where medical marijuana is allowed, the federal government is signaling it is ready to get out of the way, and let the states run their own show.

Advocates for medical marijuana are calling the action by Congress a sea change.

Deep inside the new spending plan passed by Congress, there is language that may indicate the federal government is willing to give states a lot more liberty to regulate medical pot.

Section 538 in the bill says no federal dollars in this year’s spending measure can be used to prevent California and other states where medical pot is legal, from enacting state law for, “the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana”.

What does that mean?

The Department of Justice is not interested in prosecuting state officials who are just trying to follow the laws for medical marijuana in their states.

Does that mean no more federal drug raids on individual dispensary operators?

Attorney Jessica McElfresh says no.

The attorney who represents dispensary owners and others in the medical marijuana community said it is too early to say how the Department of Justice will decide to apply this new language.

At a dispensary just outside of El Cajon, the only legal one that operates in the county, owner Tyler Schause says it is one more step toward legitimizing the use of medical marijuana.

In San Diego, the city is in the process of issuing permits for the first legally recognized medical pot dispensaries to operate.

In October, the city gave way to a conditional use permit for a dispensary in Otay Mesa. That was the very first one granted, but it is not final yet, and the permit is being appealed.

The city is taking aim at illegal dispensaries that are operating by cracking down on their landlords.

According to the police department, there is about 40 illegal dispensaries doing business in San Diego.

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