Twenty-five states, including California, allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. On Nov. 8, voters in California and eight other states will cast ballots to decide if they’ll join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C. to allow recreational use of marijuana.
According to an article published in The Hill [Poll: Majority of voters support marijuana legalization, June 6, 2016] which cited a Quinnipiac University poll, 54% of those surveyed said marijuana should be legalized. The same poll also showed that 89% of respondents believe people should be allowed to use medically prescribed marijuana.
Despite the clear trend occurring at the state level and the overwhelming support among voters to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently rejected calls to reclassify marijuana. Essentially, the DEA decided that marijuana will remain a Schedule 1 drug – meaning it’s illegal for any purpose and puts marijuana on par with heroin, ecstasy, meth, and several other narcotics.
To support their decision to keep marijuana listed as a Schedule 1 drug, the DEA claimed that “marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” partly because “scientific evidence is not widely available.”
It’s a perfect catch 22: as a tightly controlled Schedule 1 substance, it’s extremely difficult for researchers to access marijuana to study medicinal uses to convince the federal government to reschedule the drug.
In fact, there’s only one federally approved supplier of marijuana for medical research and there’s a costly, over burdensome registration process for potential researchers. It’s not only frustrating from a policy and research perspective, this decision limits the options patients and doctors have when it comes to health care choices.
To fix this, I’m working with several colleagues from both sides of the aisle. In June, I joined Reps. Andy Harris, M.D. (R-Md.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) to introduce the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016 (H.R. 5549) to remove barriers inhibiting medical marijuana research. First, the legislation creates a more efficient registration process by reducing wait times and costly security measures and by removing unnecessary layers of protocol review. The bill also makes it easier for researchers to obtain the marijuana they need for their studies through reforms in both production and distribution regulations by allowing for the private manufacturing and distribution of marijuana solely for research purposes.
Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
Additionally, I’ve been a tireless advocate for protecting medical marijuana patients in states that allow medicinal marijuana to be used from prosecution from the federal government. In 2014, Congress passed, with bipartisan support, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the spending bill for Department of Justice (DOJ). This amendment blocks the DOJ from using federal funds to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients or providers that are in a compliance with their state’s laws. Unfortunately, this amendment is only a temporary fix – if a new funding bill is passed without this language, medical marijuana patients and providers across the country could be subject to arrest.
Earlier this week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals used the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment as justification in their ruling to affirm that the DOJ is prohibited from spending money to prosecute federal marijuana cases if the defendants comply with state laws. This certainly restores some sanity to the way the federal government treats medical marijuana patients, especially following the disappointing DEA announcement earlier in the week.
After 23 years of serving California’s Central Coast in Congress, I’ve decided to retire to spend more time with my family. As I leave Congress, I encourage my congressional colleagues to address the uncertainty surrounding federal medical marijuana laws to ensure people are able to make the best possible choices for their health without fear of prosecution or arrest.
By Calif. Rep. Sam Far (Dem) - The Hill/Aug. 18, 2016
Photo: Getty file