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House turns down amendment on restricting funding from prosecuting medical marijuana users (updated)

An employee at a medical marijuana dispensary.
An employee at a medical marijuana dispensary.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Two California Congressman – a Democrat and a Republican – want the federal government to stop hassling people who use, grow, or sell medical marijuana. The House of Representatives expects to vote tonight on the issue.

The amendment to a spending bill would forbid the Justice Department from spending any part of its budget arresting or prosecuting people who use, distribute, or grow medical marijuana in the 16 states with laws that allow it. Republican Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach co-sponsored the amendment with Democratic Congressman Sam Farr of Santa Cruz.

Farr says it hasn’t been a problem for California, "so I don’t know why the federal government wants to create a problem that isn’t there."

He adds the Justice Department has threatened landlords who rent to medical marijuana dispensaries.

"They don’t need to spend money on that." He says California has had medical marijuana "for a long time. Law enforcement knows how to handle it community by community. It doesn’t seem to be a problem. Essentially it’s one of those issues you can argue is a state’s rights."

He predicts that some fiscal conservatives will vote yes because it saves money. The amendment is one of dozens jockeying for position as the House prepares to vote on the annual budget for the Justice Department.

Technically, lawmakers are not allowed to create new policy with legislative amendments, but they are allowed to restrict spending.

UPDATE May 10 By a vote of 163 to 262, the House late last night turned down the amendment.