Bipartisan group of Congressional members seek to reclassify marijuana for medical use, allow for 'fair' trials
WASHINGTON, DC — More than a dozen Members of Congress co-introduced legislation Thursday that would reclassify marijuana for medical use and provide federal defendants the right to use state law compliance as evidence in medical marijuana trials, a right they’re currently denied.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) authored H.R. 689, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act,” which in addition to rescheduling marijuana will allow states to establish production and distribution laws without interference by the federal government, and will remove current obstacles to research.
Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) authored the “Truth in Trials Act,” a separate bill which seeks to overturn the prohibition on medical marijuana evidence in federal court.
Both bills were introduced in anticipation of a national medical marijuana conference to be held next week in Washington, D.C. during which hundreds of advocates are expected to meet with their Congressional representatives about the legislation.
“Nineteen jurisdictions have passed laws recognizing the importance of providing access to medical marijuana for the hundreds of thousands of patients who rely on it,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “It is time for the federal government to respect these decisions, and stop inhibiting safe access.”
Initial co-sponsors of H.R. 689 include Representatives Cohen (D-TN), Farr (D-CA), Grijalva (D-AZ), Hastings (D-FL), Honda (D-CA), Huffman (D-CA), Lee (D-CA), Moran (D-VA), Nadler (D-NY), Polis (D-CO), Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Schakowsky (D-IL).
On the “Truth in Trials Act,” Congressman Farr said that, “The federal government for too long has denied due process to defendants who can demonstrate that they were using medical marijuana legally under local or state law. This bill would ensure that all the evidence is heard in a case and not just the evidence that favors conviction.”
“Congress has the opportunity to establish a sensible public health policy on medical marijuana, and do what the Obama Administration has been afraid or unwilling to do,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has been working with Members of Congress to advance this legislation. “Patient advocates intend to push Congress to take heed of the abundant scientific evidence showing marijuana’s medical value, and act in accordance with the overwhelming popular support this issue receives.”
H.R. 689 is partly a response to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) recent denial of a petition to reclassify marijuana for medical use. In 2002, the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) filed a petition, which was denied by the DEA in July 2011. The denial was appealed in January 2012 and just last month the D.C. Circuit refused to reclassify, instead ruling in favor of the Obama Administration’s effort to keep medical marijuana out of reach for millions of Americans.
The bill also dismantles a cumbersome and often prohibitive research application process for medical marijuana, currently run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which almost exclusively favors studies on the alleged harmfulness of cannabis.
The “Truth in Trials Act” attempts to bring ‘fairness’ to federal medical marijuana trials. Because of the government’s insistence that marijuana has no medical value, federal prosecutors are easily able to exclude any reference to medical marijuana in trials involving cultivators and distributors who have been acting in accordance with their own state laws.
Because of this, federal defendants are all but guaranteed a conviction at trial and, as a result, are forced to take plea bargains that impose years of prison time. Just in the past few months, several defendants were convicted and sentenced to between 5-10 years in prison.
Since he took office, President Obama has been responsible for nearly 100 medical marijuana-related prosecutions, despite establishing a Justice Department policy that indicated he would do otherwise.
Similar versions of both bills have been introduced in prior Congressional sessions, but the Obama Administration’s aggressive and intolerant stance on medical marijuana has brought the issue to a head.
Next week, ASA will be holding a National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference, “Bridging the Gap Between Public & Policy,” in Washington, D.C. from February 22nd-25th. The conference will feature medical and legal experts, Members of Congress and other policymakers, as well as a wide array of workshops and panels focusing on scientific research, strategic planning, and skills building.
On Monday, February 25th, ASA will host a press conference, followed by a lobby day with hundreds of patient advocates seeking co-sponsors and demanding policy changes of their Congressional representatives.