Rep. Blumenauer Pushes States' Rights Medical Pot Bill in Congress
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Monday gave a public coming out event for a bill designed to stop federal government interference with medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. The bill debuted at a press conference where Blumenauer was surrounded by medical marijuana supporters who were in town for meetings and lobbying as part of the National Cannabis Unity Conference sponsored by Americans for Safe Access.
The bill, House Resolution 689, is known as the State's Medical Marijuana Patients Protection Act. It is the latest effort to find a way to end federal interference in medical marijuana states. It has 13 cosponsors, including California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
The bill aims "to provide for the rescheduling of marijuana and for the medical use of marijuana in accordance with the laws of the various States." It calls on the Department of Health and Human Services and the DEA to reschedule marijuana to a schedule other than Schedule I or II.
Schedule I -- where marijuana is currently placed -- is reserved for substances with a high danger of abuse and "no currently accepted medical treatment in the United States," while Schedule II drugs have lower abuse potential and some accepted medical uses. Schedules III, IV, and V, where the bill mandates marijuana should be placed, all have some accepted medical use and "moderate to low," "low," and "lower" abuse potential, respectively.
The bill also bars the use of the Controlled Substance Act to "prohibit or otherwise restrict" medical marijuana prescribing or recommending, possession or cultivation, or distribution of medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
The unwillingness of the federal government to either restrain itself in states where medical marijuana is legal or to allow for it to be rescheduled has led to tension and conflict between the states and the federal government, Blumenauer said.
"This means that the 19 jurisdictions that permit medical marijuana are operating in a patchwork of inconsistent local and federal laws," he explained. "These inconsistencies create significant challenges for both patients and the businesses working to provide access to medical marijuana.Frankly, the people in the federal bureaucracy are in an impossible position. The bill gets the federal government and the Department of Justice out of this never-never land."
Also addressing the press conference was Dr. Karen Munkacy, a breast cancer survivor who helped lead the successful campaign for medical marijuana in Massachusetts last year. The lack of protection for medical marijuana patients left her faced with a cruel dilemma, she said.
"I had to choose between breaking the law and suffering terribly," Munkacy said. "And I chose to suffer terribly."
Iraq war veteran Scott Murphy told the press conference that 22 veterans killed themselves each day last year and that medical marijuana could aid returning vets suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"If medical marijuana could help just one veteran, it would be worthwhile," he said.
The Blumenauer bill is only the latest to emerge in Congress this session. Inspired by the continuing conflict over medical marijuana, as well as the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington in November, members have introduced bills on medical marijuana, marijuana legalization, and industrial hemp.
Early in February, Blumenauer teamed up with Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) to announce the introduction of legalization and medical marijuana taxation bills. At mid-month, Blumenauer announced his pending States' Right bill, while Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced medical marijuana and hemp bills, respectively. A hemp bill was introduced earlier in the House.
Whether any of these bills move remains to be seen. The atmosphere is especially hostile in the House, where Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is no friend of marijuana and some committee chairs are even more hostile than the House leadership. Still, the bills are out there, and there are more of them than ever before. A new generation is picking up the slack left by the retirement of veteran drug reformers Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) -- and then some.
And it is going to win victories, if not this year, then next year, or the year after that. Marijuana reform isn't going away in Congress and it seems to be gaining steam in the states. Medical marijuana could be the law in nearly half the states by year's end if the legislative season goes well, and marijuana legalization bills have popped up in a half dozen states this year -- the latest being Blumenauer's Oregon. Legalization initiatives are coming down the pike next year and in 2016.
Increasingly, US congressmen and senators will be representing states that have adopted medical marijuana and/or legalized marijuana. We are already starting to see the results on Capitol Hill, and while the federal government may be the last brick in the wall of pot prohibition, that wall is already starting to crumble around the edges.