Two bills introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives April 17 would put a serious dent into federal prosecution of medical use of marijuana and offer protection to patients who use it.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is a leader on both measures. The Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act ( HR 5842 ) would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The change would allow physicians to recommend use of marijuana under conditions set by state law.
An Act to Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults ( HR 5843 ) would eliminate federal penalties for the possession of small amounts ( up to 100 grams ) or not-for-profit transfer of small amounts ( up to one ounce, 28.3 grams ) of marijuana. It would create a civil penalty of $100 for the public use of marijuana.
It would not legalize growing or distribution of commercial quantities of marijuana, nor would it affect any state laws.
'When doctors recommend the use of marijuana for their patients and states are willing to permit it, I think it's wrong for the federal government to subject either the doctors or the patients to criminal prosecution,' Frank said in introducing the measures.
'Literally, to make a 'federal case' out of it is wholly disproportionate to the activity involved. We do not have federal criminal prohibitions against drinking alcoholic beverages, and there are generally no criminal penalties for the use of tobacco at the state and federal levels for adults. There is no rational argument for treating marijuana so differently from these other substances.'
Continuing on that, Frank said, 'I think it is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime something which in fact society does not seriously wish to prosecute. In my view, having federal law enforcement agents engaged in the prosecution of people who are personally using marijuana is a waste of scarce resources better used for serious crimes.'
Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ( NORML ) , said no decriminalization bill has been introduce in 37 years. 'If passed by Congress, this legislation would legalize the possession, use, and non-profit transfer of marijuana by adults for the first time since 1937.'
The bill incorporates the basic recommendations of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, which was issued during the Nixon administration, in 1972.
'Congressman Frank's bill represents a major step toward sanity in federal marijuana policy,' said the Marijuana Policy Project's Aaron Houston. 'The decades-long federal war on marijuana protects no one and in fact has ruined countless lives. Most Americans do not believe that simple possession of a small amount of marijuana should be a criminal matter, and it's time Congress listened to the voters.'
The lead sponsor of the medical marijuana bill is Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. The bipartisan group of initial cosponsors includes Sam Farr, D-Calif., Frank, Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., They had supported similar legislation in earlier sessions of Congress but no hearings were ever held on those bills.
Caren Woodson, speaking for Americans for Safe Access, said, 'By disregarding marijuana's medical efficacy, and undermining efforts to implement state laws, the federal government is willfully placing hundreds of thousands of sick Americans in harms way.' The nationwide group advocates for medical marijuana.
A study published online in the Journal of Pain April 17 offered further evidence of the utility of marijuana in reducing pain. In this study, conducted at the University of California-Davis, patients experiencing neuropathic pain from diabetes, spinal injury and multiple sclerosis smoked marijuana cigarettes containing controlled amounts of the active ingredient THC.