Will Congress Act on a Big Opportunity to Protect Medical Marijuana Users?

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May 28, 2014 - By Michael Collins

In an era of deep partisanship and dysfunction, the House will take a vote - likely tomorrow - which could buck both those trends.

An amendment aimed at preventing the federal government from prosecuting providers and users of medical marijuana, in states that have some form of medicinal marijuana, is set to be introduced. The amendment has broad bipartisan support, and represents a unique opportunity for members of Congress to protect their constituents from federal overreach in the area of medical marijuana policy.

The amendment has attracted support from both sides of the political spectrum, with strange bedfellows Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) joining forces to bring this amendment to the floor, and several other Democrats and Republicans signing on in support of the legislation. Earlier this week, Grover Norquist and DPA’s Ethan Nadelmann co-authored an op-ed calling on the House to pass this important amendment.

The rising support for this amendment from all sides is testimony to the prevalence of medical marijuana in the United States today. Currently, 22 states have medical marijuana laws on the books, while six more states have cannabis oil (CBD) laws. CBD laws have proven popular in traditionally red states like Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin, where parents are using a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana to treat children who are suffering severe seizures. States like New York and Florida are also predicted to legalize medical marijuana in the near future.

Despite more than half the states across the country having medical marijuana laws, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Users and providers of medical marijuana are open to prosecution under outdated federal statutes that judge marijuana to have no medical value, despite much scientific evidence to that contrary, and also deem marijuana to be a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin. This upcoming vote is an opportunity for lawmakers to address this glaring discrepancy, by preventing the federal government from taking legal action against doctors, caregivers and patients, for simply adhering to state law.

An April Pew poll found that nearly three-quarters of Americans (72 percent) believe that efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth, including 78 percent of independents, 71 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans. There is strong support for state medical marijuana programs, with 80 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Independents, and 61 percent of Republicans supporting the sale and use of medical marijuana in their state.

A recent vote that would have allowed Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to discuss medical marijuana with patients narrowly failed in the House. This vote to protect medical marijuana users is likely to receive much more support, given the huge number of states with these laws and the bipartisanism surrounding the issue, and thus the legislation stands a very good chance of passing.

In a “do-nothing” Congress, legislators finally have a chance to take meaningful action that protects their constituents, while preventing federal overreach. The public knows that federal marijuana laws are nonsensical and need to be changed – the question is: will Congress finally take action?

To tell your member of Congress that you want the federal assault on medical marijuana to come to an end, click here.

Michael Collins is a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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