First-Ever Federal Vote on Issue, After 10 States Have Passed Medical Marijuana Legislation <br> U.S. Representatives Forced to Take Stand
Responding to the growing conflict between states and the federal government over the issue of medical marijuana, Rep. Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) will offer an amendment to a House appropriations bill on Wednesday (July 23rd) that would prevent the federal Drug Enforcement Administration from undermining state efforts to provide terminally ill and chronic pain patients access to physician-recommended medical marijuana.
"It is more important to spend scarce federal resources fighting violent crime and major drug traffickers than arresting AIDS and cancer patients," said Bill Piper, associate director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
National polls show that over 70% of Republican, Democrat and Independent voters support allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. As many as two-thirds of voters say they prefer candidates that support medical marijuana over those that don't.
Ten states - Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- have adopted medical marijuana laws since 1996, representing over 20% of the U.S. population. Unfortunately, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has ignored the will of the voters by conducting controversial raids on medical marijuana patients and their caregivers.
Because this will be the first Congressional vote on this issue, many Representatives will be forced to take a public stand for the first time, including those from states that have passed medical marijuana legislation.
"Now is the time for elected officials to stand up not only for the rights of the sick and dying, but for the rights of voters in their states," said Piper.
Numerous scientific studies have found that marijuana can have medical benefits for AIDS, cancer and other patients. A 1999 Institute of Medicine study funded by the federal government found that nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety "all can be mitigated by marijuana."
Allowing patients legal access to medical marijuana has been endorsed by numerous organizations, including the AIDS Action Council, American Bar Association, American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, National Association of Attorneys General, and California Medical Association. Many countries around the world are allowing marijuana for medical use, including England and Canada.
Nevertheless, the DEA has been relentlessly raiding medical marijuana cooperatives, especially in California. In October 2001, for example, DEA agents raided and closed the West Hollywood-based Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, a non-profit co-op that provided marijuana to about 1,000 AIDS, cancer, and other patients. The co-op was legal under state law and operated with the full support of local elected officials and law-enforcement officers. The City of West Hollywood even co-signed the mortgage for the co-op's building. The West Hollywood Sheriff's Station refused to cooperate with the DEA raid. Federal agents seized marijuana plants, business documents, bank accounts, and about 3,000 confidential medical records.
In February 2002, on the same day that Attorney General John Ashcroft asked law-enforcement agencies to be on the highest possible alert for impending terrorist attacks, dozens of DEA agents raided and closed a medical marijuana co-op in San Francisco and made a number of related arrests around the state. Numerous other raids have been made more recently.
Earlier this year the California legislature passed a resolution urging Congress to pass federal legislation securing a state's right to regulate medical marijuana, allowing individual patients to possess and consume medical marijuana, and allowing individuals deputized by states and localities to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana appropriately.
With the Drug Policy Alliance's legal help, the city and county of Santa Cruz, California, has taken the extraordinary step of suing the federal government arguing that the federal government does not have the constitutional authority to interfere with state efforts to give terminally ill and chronic pain patients access to physician-recommended medical marijuana that is cultivated by the patients and their caregivers.
The amendment to be offered by Rep. Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) to the Justice-State-Commerce Appropriations bill would prevent the DEA from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws. The amendment would not prevent the DEA from arresting people using, growing, or selling marijuana for recreational use. Nor would it prevent the DEA from arresting patients for medical marijuana in states that have not approved it.