As early as this Thursday the U.S. House could vote on a bipartisan amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill that would prohibit the federal government from wasting taxpayer money interfering with state medical marijuana laws. The amendment is being offered by five Republicans and five Democrats. A vote several weeks ago on allowing Veteran Administration doctors discuss medical marijuana with their patients received 195 yes votes. Support for letting states set their own marijuana policy without federal interference is rising quickly.
"This vote is about letting states help their citizens without interference from out-of-control federal agencies," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Members of Congress have an opportunity to both protect the patient/doctor relationship and save taxpayer money. No person should have to fear being arrested for following the advice of their doctor."
The amendment is being sponsored by Reps. Rohrabacher (R-CA), Farr (D-CA), Young (R-AK), Blumenauer (D-OR), McClintock (R-CA), Cohen (D-TN), Broun (R-GA), Polis (D-CO), Stockman (R-TX), and Lee (D-CA).
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly three-in-four Americans (72%) believe that efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth, including 78% of independents, 71% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans. There is strong support for state medical marijuana programs, with 80% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans supporting the sale and use of medical marijuana in their state.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Five states have laws regulating CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children's seizures: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Utah, and Wisconsin. More states, such as Florida and New York, are likely to legalize medical marijuana soon.
Despite scientific evidence in support of marijuana's medical benefits marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under federal law, the same category as heroin. In contrast, cocaine and methamphetamine are Schedule II drugs available for medical use. Patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana providers live in fear of federal arrest and prosecution for following the recommendation of doctors. Federal agencies also actively obstruct efforts to reschedule marijuana or even study its medical benefits.
The first petition to reschedule marijuana was submitted to the DEA in 1972, but it took 16 years (and several lawsuits) for the agency to finally make a ruling. Following two years of hearings, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Francis Young ruled that marijuana should be rescheduled because it did not meet the legal criteria for a Schedule I drug. However, Young's finding was overruled by former DEA Administrator John Lawn. The DEA rejected a petition to reschedule marijuana again in 2011.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) maintains a monopoly on the production of marijuana for research purposes. The federal government does not maintain a monopoly on the production of any other drug. As a result it has been impossible to conduct the FDA drug development trials necessary to develop the plant into a federally-approved prescription medicine. The experience of Professor Lyle Craker, director of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst's Medicinal Plant Program, is a case in point. Dr. Craker had sought permission to cultivate marijuana to research its medical benefits. After years of legal wrangling, DEA Administrative Law Judge Ellen Bittner issued a ruling that it was in the public interest to end the decades-long NIDA monopoly on marijuana production for research purposes. Once again, the DEA Administrator overruled the ALJ's decision and denied Dr. Craker's petition, protecting the federal monopoly over marijuana for research.
Patients and their families have turned to the states for help. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment would protect people following their state medical marijuana from federal arrest and prosecution by prohibiting the Department of Justice and DEA from spending taxpayer money to block the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The amendment wouldn't prohibit federal agencies from arresting people for medical marijuana in states where it is still illegal. It simply protects the majority of states that have chosen to provide safe and legal access to medical marijuana from federal interference.
"Federal marijuana laws are going to be reformed; it's not question of if but when," said Piper. "I can't think of any other issue with such strong polling numbers across the political spectrum. Bipartisan marijuana law reform is going to happen."