A little less anxiety for medical marijuana states on federal level

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Buried deep inside the 1,600-page funding bill Congress is scrambling to pass to avert a shutdown, a few lines comforted Minnesota officials worried about the federal government cracking down on the state’s new medical marijuana program.

In its current form, the $1.1 trillion spending bill includes a section that bans the Department of Justice from using federal funds to intervene in states with medical marijuana laws.

“That would help reduce a bunch of anxiety,” said Manny Munson-Regala, the state official leading the buildup of Minnesota’s medical cannabis program. It would assuage some concerns not just for the state and its two manufacturers, but for bankers and landlords worried about getting involved in the medical marijuana business.

Map: State-by-state marijuana laws across the U.S.

Minnesota lawmakers and state officials have wrestled with the prospect of getting shut down by the federal government ever since they passed the law late in the last session that allows patients with a handful of serious ailments to buy marijuana oils, pills and vapors starting in July 2015.

Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana, but those measures still conflict with federal law. And though the Obama administration has generally been friendlier to marijuana than administrations past, Munson-Regala wondered: What if that changes? Or a new president changes course?

The U.S. House narrowly passed a funding bill with the medical marijuana section Thursday. The Senate was expected to take it up Friday.

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Kevin Riach, a Minneapolis attorney who has given presentations on the laws and regulations for marijuana, said he doubts whether the bill will markedly change the government’s handling of the issue. Plus, most U.S. attorneys — including Minnesota’s — have indicated they won’t go after medical marijuana businesses so long as they’re following state laws, he said.

“I think it gives a little bit more comfort. I wouldn’t say it gives very much more comfort,” Riach said.

“But you never know,” he continued. “The bottom line is … it’s still illegal under federal law, so anything can happen.”