If ever a piece of legislation should pass readily through the U.S. House of Representatives, it is a measure sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., that would prevent the Department of Justice from using tax dollars to prosecute medical-marijuana patients in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Because it is a good bill, expect it to fail.
Polls show that some three out of four Americans support allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for patients who need it. Members must know that constituents within their districts use marijuana to control pain and nausea -- their families would like to live without the fear of prosecution. As Time Magazine reported last year, research shows that the drug has salutary "analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects."
Republicans should be drawn to the states' rights angle of the bill, while Democrats should go for the personal stories of constituents who have found relief, thanks to medical marijuana.
Yet when the House last voted on the measure in 2005, it tanked in a 264-162 vote. As the House is scheduled to consider the measure this week, few expect the measure to pass. "I wish I could tell you it's going to pass," Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Bruce Mirken conceded by phone last week. "I can't realistically expect that."
Over the last decade, two big hurdles existed: Republicans and Democrats. Last year, a mere 15 Repubs voted for the measure -- down from 19 GOP members who supported it in 2004. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are moving toward the light. In 1998, the Clinton Justice Department filed suit against California medical-marijuana clubs. Last year, however, an impressive 145 Dems voted for Hinchey-Rohrabacher.
Martin Chilcutt of Kalamazoo, Mich., has written to his local GOP congressman, Rep. Fred Upton. A veteran who believes he got cancer because of his military service, Chilcutt told me that his Veterans Administration hospital doctors supported his use of medical marijuana when he had cancer.
Upton's office told me that Upton believes Marinol, the legal synthetic drug that includes the active ingredient in marijuana, should do the trick.
I asked Chilcutt if he had tried the drug. "I don't like Marinol at all," Chilcutt replied. It takes too long to work, it is hard to calibrate the dose you need, and "it made me feel weird." He prefers marijuana because it works instantly -- "You can control the amount you're using, and you get instant feedback."
Upton also fears sending the wrong message to kids about marijuana. But federal law has long allowed the sick access to needed pain control with drugs more powerful than marijuana. Only bad politics can account for the fact that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, and thus deemed more harmful than cocaine and morphine -- drugs that can kill users who overdose.
Alex Holstein, a former GOP operative and conservative activist, is lobbying Republicans on behalf of the Marijuana Policy Project. He believes that regardless of their position on medical marijuana, Repubs in the California delegation should support Hinchey-Rohrabacher because state voters approved Proposition 215 -- and Republicans should stand up for states' rights and the will of California voters.
As it is, President Bush should direct the Justice Department to lay off medical-marijuana users -- because it is the right thing to do for sick people.
It's not as if the administration doesn't know how to sit on its hands and not enforce existing law. Last week, The Washington Post reported that under Bush, the number of employers prosecuted for hiring illegal aliens plummeted from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003.
If the Bushies can look the other way when well-heeled employers break the law, they can look the other way when sick people try to relieve unnecessary pain.