Congress Set To Ban Feds From Enforcing Cannabis Laws — Again

Go away for at least another year.

The federal government currently has no business in state-legal medical cannabis. For that, we have to thank Congress, which last year cut funding from the Justice Department.

For the purposes of enforcing federal drug laws in states where cannabis use is legal, federal drug warriors currently have no budget, and no budget equals — well, nothing. (This is no empty gesture and does have teeth, as a federal judge in San Francisco ruled earlier this year.)

That funding cut is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, but Congress is moving to continue the funding cut for the coming year. And it looks likely to be approved, according to Tom Angell, chairman of legalization-friendly group Marijuana Majority. 

That's good news for most cannabis users — but there's less good news for business people seeking to use banks, and for veterans wanting to use cannabis under the eye of their federally-funded doctors.

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Some form of cannabis use, if not a California-level cannabis industry, is now legal in over half of the country. There's also a booming recreational marijuana marketplace in Washington, Colorado, and now Oregon. 

All of that violates federal law, but for the most part, the feds have not appeared interested in shutting it all down — just shutting some of it down. About one-third of San Francisco's licensed dispensaries were shut down under federal pressure during a crackdown that ran from 2011 to about 2013. (The dispensaries were too close to schools and parks, the feds claimed.)

The feds are also still attempting to shut down Berkeley Patients Group and Oakland's Harborside Health Center, two of the Bay Area's larger pot clubs, with forfeiture claims. 

The Justice Department's ability to do any of that is now curtailed, as U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer confirmed in an October ruling in the case of a Marin County dispensary, shut down by the feds, that seeks to reopen. As long as there's no federal budget for law enforcement, there can be no enforcing of the law.

That's good news for California's multi billion-dollar cannabis industry, which now need only worry about local lawmen and women. 

But they will still need to be concerned about the taxman.

Another provision that would have allowed cannabis businesses to openly use banks did not make it into the final version. Under pressure from some sector of the Washington bureaucracy, most banks and credit unions refuse to accept accounts from cannabis businesses. Another measure to ease restrictions at the Veterans Administration also did not make the final cut.

Still, the ceasefire in what was a 40-year-plus war on weed remains in effect. If cannabis only needs to worry about a Cold War from the feds, that's a positive.

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