Misha Japaridze/2013 AP file photoU.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher introduced an amendment to the Department of Justice's budget that aims to end federal raids on state-legal cannabis in the U.S.

Marijuana wins big victory in Congress

Marijuana won its biggest-ever victory on Capitol Hill early Friday, when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives backed ending federal raids on state-legal cannabis in over half of the country.

The House voted 219-189 to approve an amendment to the Department of Justice's budget introduced by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach).

If approved by the U.S. Senate, the Drug Enforcement Administration would see funding for enforcement actions on marijuana in 32 states and in the District of Columbia removed.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since a 1996 ballot initiative, but implementing the law has been difficult.

About one-third of San Francisco's licensed and taxpaying medical cannabis dispensaries closed under pressure from the federal Justice Department, which began a crackdown on pot clubs in 2011.

Local medical marijuana advocates hailed Friday's vote. “This is a game-changer that paves the way for much more policy change to come,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana users' advocacy group.

Cannabis supporters say that de-funding the Justice Department's war on state-legal marijuana would mean an end to pending legal efforts that could shut down a Mission District cannabis dispensary.

The local United States Attorney, Melinda Haag, filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit against the building that houses Shambhala Healing Center on Mission Street. Under a settlement reached last month, the building's owners must pay $150,000 to the federal government and evict the dispensary, according to court documents.

In Wahington D.C., 49 Republicans voted along with Rohrabacher, who noted that 61 percent of Americans support medical marijuana, according to recent polls, and that it's past time for the federal government to acknowledge that fact.

“Despite this overwhelming shift in public opinion, the federal government continues its hard line of oppression against medical marijuana,” Rohrabacher said.

Bay Area members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), also supported the measure, which blocks federal action that would “prevent [33] States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

It's not clear how likely Senate approval will be. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, has staunchly opposed the medical use of marijuana.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes; 11 more are in the process of approving some legal use of the drug.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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