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.
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.
|Irv Rosenfeld hands his empty federal medical marijuana canister
to Montel Williams, while Reps. Farr, Hinchey and Paul observe.
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.
"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.
Angel Raich leads the group to the office of medical
marijuana opponent and arch-drug warrior Mark Souder.
"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
"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."
"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."
|DRCNet associate director David Guard with Montel
"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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