WASHINGTON -- May 4 -- With a Supreme Court decision in a high-profile medical marijuana case pending, television talk show host Montel Williams joined with U.S. Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) at a Capitol Hill press conference to launch a new, bipartisan congressional drive to protect patients from arrest. Also speaking were Angel Raich, the California patient whose suit seeking protection from federal prosecution awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Irvin Rosenfeld, one of seven patients still receiving medical marijuana from the U.S. government in a program closed to new patients in 1992.
Rep. Frank's States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, introduced today with more than 30 cosponsors from both parties, would apply only in states that have chosen to enact medical marijuana laws. Within those states, medical marijuana patients, as well as doctors and pharmacists, would not be subject to prosecution under the federal Controlled Substances Act for medical marijuana activities authorized by those laws.
Also introduced today was the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment, which will be offered when the Science, State, Judiciary, Commerce (and Related Agencies) appropriations bill comes to the House floor this summer. The amendment would bar the Justice Department from using appropriated funds to arrest and prosecute patients and caregivers for medical marijuana activities allowed by state law.
"Living with multiple sclerosis, I'm in pain every day -- pain so bad that sometimes if you brush up against me in an elevator I want to scream," Montel Williams said. "Medical marijuana helped me when the strongest prescription painkillers failed -- or left me in such a stupor I couldn't function. Patients struggling for their lives and dignity against illnesses like MS, cancer or AIDS should not be treated as criminals."
"Most Americans don't realize that the federal ban on the medical use of marijuana was not put in place by the Food and Drug Administration or any medical or public health agency," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "The ban was enacted by Congress, and Congress can change it."
"When doctors recommend the use of marijuana for their patients and states are willing to permit it," Rep. Frank said, "I think it's wrong for the federal government to subject either the doctors or the patients to criminal prosecution. Nothing in this proposal makes marijuana more available for the general population. Conservatives often profess their support for states' rights, and if they truly believe in states' rights, they should support this bill. So, I am delighted that some of my conservative colleagues, including Congressmen Ron Paul and Dana Rohrabacher, have joined in this effort."
"With our nation's law enforcement officials fighting the war on terrorism, hunting down dangerous criminals, and working to stop the sale of major narcotics, having the U.S. Department of Justice track and arrest legal users of medical marijuana is a dangerous misallocation of resources," Rep. Hinchey said. "It's flat out wrong to penalize Americans whose doctor legally prescribed marijuana to them for the relief of intense pain. It's an intrusion on patients' rights and it's an intrusion on states' rights. Since the Department of Justice has failed to act appropriately, Congress must act to prevent the Attorney General's office from arresting and prosecuting Americans who are using medical marijuana in accordance with their state's law."
"When marijuana, under controlled circumstances, provides medical relief no other drug can, allowing its use is the compassionate thing to do," said Rep. Farr. "What's more, when states pass laws to protect medical marijuana users, the federal government needs to recognize that authority, and focus their attention on illegal users rather than attacking patients who are debilitated and dying."
"It is especially important for conservatives to support this bill to allow the people of various states to determine their own policies with regard to medical use of marijuana," said Rep. Rohrabacher. "Local control of local issues is a key element of the conservative Republican philosophy."
Raich, whose case awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, reiterated her determination to keep fighting for herself and fellow patients no matter how the court rules. "I'm in this battle literally for my life," said Raich, who suffers from an inoperable brain tumor, life-threatening wasting syndrome, seizures, and severe chronic pain. "Now is the time for Congress to step in to help us sick, disabled and dying patients. However my case turns out, something will be done if it takes every last breath in my body."
Ten states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington-now have medical marijuana laws. The most recent is Montana's, passed by voters last November with 62% of the vote. A 2002 CNN/Time poll found 80% public support for such legislation nationwide.
With more than 17,000 members and 120,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. For more information, please visit http://www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.