(Reprinted with permission of the NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org.)
February 26, 1998, Washington, DC: A coalition of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, approved a "sense of the House of Representatives" resolution stating that "marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medical use." The resolution -- introduced by subcommittee chair Bill McCollum (R-FL) -- won the approval of all seven Republicans present, while being opposed by the two Democrats at the mark-up, Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). Ironically, the subcommittee's action came just one day after the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM) held its third and final symposium on the merits of marijuana therapy. The IOM organized the conferences as part of a federally funded 18-month review of the scientific evidence demonstrating marijuana's therapeutic value. Before passing the resolution, the Republicans rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, stating that the "States have the primary responsibility for protecting the health and safety of their citizens, and the Federal Government should not interfere with any state's policy (as expressed in a legislative enactment or referendum) which authorizes persons with AIDS or cancer to pursue, upon the recommendation of a licensed physician, a course of treatment for such illness that includes the use of marijuana." Republicans argued that any lifting of the legal ban prohibiting marijuana, even for medical purposes, would send mixed and potentially dangerous messages to the American public about drug use. Conyers said that the federal government has no right to interfere in the relationship between a doctor and a patient.
"We are talking about patients with the most serious illnesses a person can have -- people who may very well die," Conyers said. "And for these patients, there is substantial medical literature suggesting that marijuana can reduce their suffering." "The Republicans on the Judiciary Committee refuse to recognize that this is a public health question, not part of the war on drugs," said NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. "They are willing to ignore the science and deny an effective medication to the sick and dying in order to advance their political agenda. It is especially disappointing that Chairman McCollum, who twice sponsored legislation to permit the legal use of medical marijuana in the 1980's, would lead this misguided effort." The resolution now goes for consideration before the full Judiciary Committee. A separate federal bill to allow for the legal use and distribution of medical marijuana in states that approve such efforts is pending in the House Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health and Environment. House Bill 1782 -- introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) -- currently has ten co-sponsors. For more information or a copy of the February 23 House Resolution, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500. Information on upcoming state medical marijuana initiatives and legislation is also available upon request.