Blog Post

Support for Medical Marijuana on Both Sides of the Political Aisle

Jolene Forman

Medical marijuana has gained national legitimacy on both sides of the political aisle.

The issue has reached a tipping point: 23 states have now passed medical marijuana laws and an additional 12 states have passed CBD oil laws. This means that medical marijuana is no longer viewed as a fringe issue for stoners, in predominantly liberal western and northeastern states, who just want to get high.

Instead, the vast majority of Americans now favor making marijuana legally available to relieve patients’ pain and suffering. For example, even though it already has a CBD oil law, Florida residents have demonstrated that they are ready to grant patients broader access to marijuana for medical purposes.

Earlier this month a jury made state history by refusing to convict a man for growing several marijuana plants to treat a medical condition. The defendant, Jesse Teplicki, said that marijuana is the only effective treatment for the devastating nausea and appetite suppression he experiences as a result of his debilitating anorexia. By finding Mr. Teplicki not guilty of all marijuana-related criminal charges, the jury showed that they too consider marijuana to be a legitimate medicine.

Florida residents further demonstrated their support for a medical marijuana initiative in the last election. Despite the constitutional amendment’s narrow failure to achieve the necessary supermajority vote, a solid majority of Florida voters cast ballots in favor of Amendment 2.

These displays of public support for medical marijuana are not just a big deal in Florida, they demonstrate a growing trend in other states that similarly used to be skeptical of medical marijuana. Attitudes are changing and the next wave of medical marijuana laws is emerging in swing states, like Florida, and red states like Tennessee and Texas.

Along the same lines, a Republican-sponsored medical marijuana bill was introduced in Utah this legislative session. Even though polls showed that that Utah voters overwhelmingly support medical marijuana, the bill unfortunately died last week in a close 14-15 vote in the state senate.

As with Amendment 2 in Florida, Utah’s medical marijuana bill died because of strategic opposition on the part of special interests and ideologues. One comical example of the opposition strategy in Utah came from a DEA agent who testified in a legislative hearing that medical marijuana could lead to the problem of reefer addicted rabbits.

But, the public is not buying these scare tactics. Support for medical marijuana is only growing.

In fact, Congressional leaders have taken note of public support for medical marijuana. Last week a historic bipartisan medical marijuana bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill, sponsored by Cory Booker (D – NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D – NY), Rand Paul (R – KY), and Dean Heller (R – NV), seeks to amend federal law to allow states to experiment with legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

The bill would also permit banks to provide financial services to legitimate marijuana businesses, which are currently forced to operate in cash. And, most importantly, the law would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I substance that does not have a legitimate medical purpose to a Schedule II substance that does.

Though this bill is unlikely to pass, it is a first and necessary step toward federal medical marijuana law reform.

As the New York Times editorial board recently stated, “Polls show a majority of Americans in favor of legalization of medical marijuana. It is long past time for Congress to recognize the need to change course.”

Jolene Forman is staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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