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Congress Handcuffs DEA on Legal Marijuana

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In a historic vote, Congress voted to support states on legalized medicinal marijuana. The measure will not allow the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to spend federal funds to interfere with states that have legalized medicinal marijuana.

"The states have spoken, the American people have spoken and now for the first time the U.S. House of Representatives have spoken on allowing medical marijuana," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the sponsor of the measure, in a press conference on Friday.

Rohrabacher had offered the measure because patients and dispensaries in states that had legalized medicinal marijuana continued to be raided by the DEA as state law and federal law collided. Dispensaries had inventory confiscated, including cash, most of which was never returned. Patients with all the proper paperwork were thrown in jail.

The most egregious case cited is the Kettle 5, a family in Washington arrested for marijuana plants. Even though the family abided by Washington state law, the federal agents took the family car and all the family's medicinal marijuana. The family now faces a sentence of 10 years to life.

The approval of the measure is the first time in history that Congress has voted to rein in the DEA from its war on drugs. It also showed a shift in Republicans, who tend to support the DEA and strict law enforcement. Forty-nine Republicans voted as the measure was approved 219-189. The amendment, one of many pieces of marijuana legislation, has been offered seven times since 2003, only to fail each vote.

"Congress has finally caught up with the supermajority of Americans across the nation supportive of protections for medical marijuana patients. This amendment protects people in 32 states and the District of Columbia, comprising an astonishing 60% of the population, who now live in states with medical marijuana laws," said Aaron Houston, a political advisor and strategist at Ghost Group, an operating company that specializes in marijuana technology companies. 

>> Read More: Hemp in Kentucky Creates Latest Drug War Battleground

"This measure passed because it received more support from Republicans than ever before. It is refreshing to see conservatives in Congress sticking to their conservative principles when it comes to marijuana policy. Republicans increasingly recognize that marijuana prohibition is a failed Big Government program that infringes on states' rights," said Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project.

There are currently 22 states that have legalized medicinal marijuana with Minnesota becoming the latest. The DEA will now have to stand down when it comes to raiding state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries and arresting approved patients. New York could also potentially legalize medicinal marijuana if the legislation comes up for a vote before the session ends June 19.

Rohrabacher isn't done yet, saying, "Although it's a crucial moment we have to follow this up and turn this victory into law."

-- Written by Debra Borchardt in New York.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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