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Should legalizing marijuana be left to the states? Congress not ready to say that's OK

In a first test vote of its kind, the U.S. House on Wednesday narrowly voted down an amendment aimed at giving states the right to decide on their own whether marijuana should be legalized.

The failure of the amendment, which was co-sponsored by Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, doesn't have an immediate impact on Oregon and the three other states that have legalized the possession and sale of marijuana. 

The Obama administration has already laid out guidelines for states to follow to avoid facing federal action on a drug that remains prohibited under federal law.  However, the amendment was designed to prevent a future administration from interfering with states that legalize marijuana, said Bill Post, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The amendment, defeated on a 206-222 vote, was supported by Oregon's four Democratic House members and opposed by Republican Rep. Greg Walden.

Walden, whose 2nd Congressional District voters opposed the Measure 91 initiative legalizing the drug, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The House did pass three other amendments supportive of medical marijuana and the production of hemp, a non-psychoactive form of marijuana.

Representatives approved an amendment co-sponsored by Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici that continues to prohibit the Drug Enforcement Administration from undermining laws in Oregon and other states that allow the production of hemp.

Also approved were amendments continuing a prohibition on federal interference with state medical marijuana laws and protecting state laws that allow the use of CBD oilsfrom cannabis plants that have a variety of medical uses.

Blumenauer, a Portland Democrat and leading congressional proponent of legalizing marijuana, said in a statement that he was disappointed Congress didn't allow Oregon and other states to"move forward with their voter approved adult-use marijuana programs...free of the threat of federal interference."

But he said the close vote as well as the support for the other amendments marked "the latest victory in a quiet revolution underway across America to reform and modernize our marijuana laws."

Bonamici said in a statement that the federal government should not be prohibiting the use of hemp.  "When law enforcement goes after industrial hemp, it does not further public safety; instead it deprives farm economies of a potentially multi-billion dollar crop that is used to make everything from rope to soap," she said in a statement.

--Jeff Mapes

jmapes@oregonian.com

503-221-8209

@Jeffmapes