On Tuesday, September 15, Renee Emry, a multiple sclerosis patient and mother of three, lit a marijuana cigarette in the Washington, D.C. office of Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) to protest an anti medical marijuana resolution being debated that day on the floor of the House of Representatives. McCollum, who once co-sponsored a pro-medical marijuana bill in the early eighties, was the chief sponsor of House Joint Resolution 117. H.J. Res 117 is a non-binding sense of the House Resolution stating Congress's opposition to marijuana as medicine. In front of dozens of media and spectators, Emry was soon arrested by Capital police, placed in a wheel chair, handcuffed and sent to a local D.C. jail to await a hearing.
Before committing the act of civil disobedience, Emry stated in a press release, "I got arrested today so that hopefully some day, other patients will not have to." Emry was released from custody and will appear for trial on December 7th, 1998, where she faces up to six months in jail, but not before having two conditions placed on her release by Hearing Commissioner Aida Melendez.
Condition one: Emry is not allowed to enter any Congressional office buildings. "My First Amendment rights have been stripped without even having the benefit of a trial," Emry said the day after being released. "I had an appointment with my Senator that I had to cancel to avoid being sent back to jail. My citizenship has been reduced because I have been charged with -- not yet convicted of -- marijuana possession."
Condition two: Emry is not to use her medicine -- marijuana -- until after the trial. On this Emry explained, " I have to be urine tested every week. If I test positive for my only medicine, I will be sent back to jail until my trial. When I was locked up on Tuesday, I was so scared and cold the my shivers nearly resulted in convulsions." Emry also told the WOL that while in a jail cell awaiting her hearing she was placed with prostitutes and several women arrested for assault. "I will surely be severely injured or assaulted if they send me back to jail. My condition has been stabilized for over ten years, but if I'm forced to go without my medicinal marijuana for nearly two months, I will be bedridden. Even worse I could start a downward spiral that would kill me in a few years."
Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, which led the lobbying efforts against the resolution, said of all this, "Renee's case exemplifies why the House's recent vote was so inhumane."
While Emry was awaiting her hearing, Congress debated the Resolution for forty minutes. H.J. Res. 117 states among other things, "Congress continues to support the existing Federal legal process for determining the safety and efficacy of drugs and opposes efforts to circumvent this process by legalizing marijuana and other Schedule I drugs for medicinal use without valid scientific evidence and the approval of the FDA..."
This language is similar to, though significantly less hostile than, an earlier Resolution, H.J. Res. 372, which passed the House judiciary committee in late March, an event that was marked by another multiple sclerosis patient, Cheryl Miller, getting arrested for consuming marijuana in the office of Rep. Jim Rogan (R-CA). (See our coverage at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/036.html#protest.) Although Rep. McCollum's office would not comment to the WOL about Renee Emry's act, he stated on the house floor during debate, "Everybody here today in this body is sympathetic with people who suffer from pain in this country and the many Americans who have been told in some cases that the smoking of marijuana will relieve that pain to them. But the ingredients that they need the medical profession has already laid forth in medicine that is available and approved."
Although several Congressmen spoke in opposition to the measure, there was little talk of criminal penalties for patients who use, grow and possess their medicine pending government approval. Only Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) brought that up, observing, "The logic of the authors of this legislation therefore seems to be that a very ill person should be sent to jail because he or she used the smokable form of a drug whose active ingredient is currently licensed for oral use." The debate instead focused on drug use among children, the FDA approval process and the legalization movement. Several hours later the House took a roll call vote and passed the resolution by 310 to 93.
"Fortunately, nearly 100
members of Congress opposed H.J. Res. 117," said MPP's Chuck Thomas.
The states which will be voting on medical cannabis initiatives in November are Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Alaska.
(You can find the Marijuana Policy Project on the web at http://www.mpp.org.)