Medical Marijuana: Federal Bill Re-launched and Amendment Plans Announced at DC Press Conference 5/6/05

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Congressmen, celebrities, medical marijuana patients and activists gathered for a press conference in Washington Wednesday to mark the reintroduction of measures designed to ease the federal government's war on medical marijuana users and providers. Later that night, the Marijuana Policy Project, which organized the event, hosted hundreds of supporters at a gala benefit in downtown Washington as the group celebrated its 10th anniversary. A West Coast sister benefit is set for Los Angeles next Thursday, May 9.

Irv Rosenfeld hands his empty federal medical marijuana canister
to Montel Williams, while Reps. Farr, Hinchey and Paul observe.
The States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) with more than 30 cosponsors, would bar the federal government from prosecuting patients, doctors, and providers in states where it is legal. Also discussed at the press conference was the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment, named after its original sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), which will be offered later this summer when a major appropriations bill comes to the House floor. The amendment would bar the Justice Department from using federal funds to arrest and prosecute patients and providers in states where voters or legislators have approved medical marijuana.

Reps. Frank, Rohrabacher, Farr and Hinchey were joined at the press conference by television talk show host and Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Montel Williams, federally-approved medical marijuana patient Irv Rosenfeld, and Supreme Court medical marijuana case plaintiff Angel Raich.

Angel Raich leads the group to the office of medical
marijuana opponent and arch-drug warrior Mark Souder.
"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, his voice at times quavering with pain and emotion as he spoke. "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," he told the press conference.

"I'm hurting right now," Williams continued, "because I had to come to Washington, DC. I couldn't carry anything with me because I'd get busted." Then Williams turned to Rosenfeld and held up the aluminum can containing his monthly stash of government weed from NIDA's Mississippi marijuana farm. "This is medicine. They've proven it works. They know it works. They've been giving it to Irv every single month for the past 24 years. He is one of seven in the country, and now it's down to five because two died. How can the government claim that he is in worse pain than me?" Williams asked. "This is so simple it's ignorant. We need to back these two bills to make sure the federal government stops going after people like Angel Raich and all the others."

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."

Rohrabacher seconded that sentiment. "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."

"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."

DRCNet associate director David Guard with Montel
"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 US 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."

That night, Reps. Farr, Frank, and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) joined Williams, comedian Rick Overton and more than 250 guests at the first of MPP's two fundraisers. Among them were participants in a two-day activist workshop and lobby day for MPP grantee organizations. (Attendees were treated that morning to a front page Washington Post article on the Sentencing Project "drug war becomes marijuana war" report.)

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Issue #385 -- 5/6/05

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Editorial: Bay State Agony | War on Drugs Shifts to War on Marijuana | Students at SUNY New Paltz Rally to Demand End of Marijuana Expulsions | "Marijuana Is Safer" -- Reformers Take Up a New Refrain | Announcement: DRCNet/Perry Fund Event to Feature US Rep. Jim McDermott, June 1 in Seattle | Medical Marijuana: Federal Bill Re-launched and Amendment Plans Announced at DC Press Conference | Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Asset Forfeiture: Albuquerque Police Broke Law with Seized Funds | Methamphetamine: Oregon Doctors Reject Proposal to Turn in Meth Users to Health Officials | Methamphetamine: Meth-Cooking Demo at School Perturbs Parents | Oxycontin: Massachusetts Lawmakers Weigh Ban on Popular Pain Reliever | Prisons: Some Architects Call for Profession to Reject Prison, Jail Design Jobs | Needle Exchange: New Jersey Cities Expect NEP Approval Today | Needle Exchange: Massachusetts Meltdown | Reefer Madness: Feds Warn That Marijuana Makes Kids Crazy | Weekly: This Week in History | Job Listing: Outreach Coordinator, Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (DRCNet) | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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