WASHINGTON — For the first time, the House of Representatives voted early Friday to block the federal government from enforcing its marijuana laws in states that have approved use of the drug for medical purposes.
Marijuana advocates called the vote historic.
"This is a game changer that paves the way for much more policy change to come," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a group that has lobbied to end federal penalties for marijuana use.
The plan passed 219-189, with 49 Republicans teaming up with 170 Democrats to approve the measure shortly after midnight.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., attached the language as an amendment to a bill that would fund the Justice Department.
It attracted votes from conservative Republicans such as Doc Hastings of Washington state and Don Young of Alaska. In Washington state, which along with Colorado approved marijuana for recreational use in 2012, Hastings was the only Republican who voted for the measure, joining all six Democrats in the state's delegation.
"I think it says we're finally getting through to the Republican Party," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group. "It has always confused me when people refer to this as a liberal issue. William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman were supporters of marijuana reform, and medical marijuana in particular."
No similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
While Congress' official position is that marijuana is a drug with no medical value, 22 states now allow medical marijuana, with Minnesota the latest to approve it this week when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill into law.
A constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in Florida will be on the November ballot.