Pubdate: Mon, 07 Apr 2014
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2014 Bellingham Herald
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


WASHINGTON - In January, President Barack Obama said reclassifying 
marijuana and making it legal in any way "is a job for Congress."

"It's not something by ourselves that we start changing," Obama said 
in an interview with CNN.

In February, 18 members of the U.S. House of Representatives shot 
back in a letter to the president, telling Obama he should use his 
executive power to make the change on his own.

Caught in the middle are the more than 1 million Americans who use 
marijuana for their physical and psychological ailments.

They don't like the situation, saying they face daily uncertainty 
about whether they'll be able to get the drug they need or whether 
they'll be arrested for possessing it.

"Without cannabis, I can't get out of bed," said Steph Sherer, the 
founder and executive director of a group called Americans for Safe Access.

On Monday, the medical pot users took their complaints to Congress.

Concluding a three-day conference in Washington, the group organized 
200 medical-marijuana advocates from 37 states _ a collection of 
patients, doctors, scientists, lawyers and others _ for its second 
annual lobbying day on Capitol Hill, lining up more than 300 meetings 
with legislative offices.

Pot backers say Congress needs to get involved to resolve a growing 
conflict between state and federal laws.

They expressed hope that change could be in the offing after Attorney 
General Eric Holder told a House subcommittee Friday that the Obama 
administration is ready to tackle the issue.

While stressing that "ultimately Congress would have to change the 
law," Holder said, "I think our administration would be willing to 
work with Congress if such a proposal were made." He's expected to 
field questions on the topic again Tuesday when he appears before the 
House Judiciary Committee for a hearing on oversight of the Justice Department.

While Congress classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance with no 
medical value, 20 states have passed laws allowing medical pot since 
California became the first in 1996, and Florida is expected to vote 
on the issue in November. Two states, Washington and Colorado, went 
farther in 2012, passing laws that allow all adults who are 21 and 
over to smoke pot for recreational purposes.

But medical marijuana users say the state laws can easily be ignored 
by federal authorities, who have the discretion and authority to 
override them as they see fit. Medical marijuana advocates say a 
change in federal law would eliminate any confusion and ensure that 
patients and their suppliers are operating legally.

They complained that the Obama administration has spent more than 
$300 million to prosecute medical marijuana cases since 2009, $100 
million more than was spent during the entire eight years of George 
W. Bush's presidency.

"We're really just relying on Congress to actually reschedule it at 
the federal level, because until that happens, all of this on the 
state level is almost meaningless," said Kari Boiter, a patient from 
Washington state who's involved with Americans for Safe Access.

She said that was particularly the case for people who were going to 
prison for using marijuana and for family members who were "left to 
deal with the fallout."

"This is very real right now: The federal government in Washington 
state, where it is legal, is prosecuting at least three people that I 
know of," Boiter said.

Critics say it would be a mistake to reclassify marijuana, calling it 
a dangerous drug that's highly addictive. In states such as Kentucky, 
where lawmakers killed a medical marijuana bill earlier this year, 
some lawmakers said the drug had not undergone enough testing.

Sherer, who founded Americans for Safe Access in 2002, began using 
marijuana when she was 23 for chronic neck pain. After a severe 
injury affected her neck's mobility and caused spasms, she began 
using painkillers, muscle relaxants and high doses of ibuprofen, 
which led to kidney problems. She said she used marijuana because she 
couldn't take ibuprofen now.

Addressing a large group of legislative staff members over lunch on 
Monday, Sherer said medical marijuana patients shouldn't have to 
worry about getting safe supplies of their drug or such things as 
"prosecutorial discretion."

"What this means is that if a U.S. attorney feels like prosecuting 
someone, he or she will," Sherer said.

She said decision-makers in Washington should stop pointing fingers 
"at who should take the first step" in rescheduling marijuana. And 
she said the question facing Congress was not whether the drug was a medicine.

"Cannabis is a medicine. It has been used for thousands of years," 
Sherer said. "What we are asking your bosses to do is to change 
outdated laws so they reflect the experience of their constituents."

Medical marijuana backers say their top priority is to pass a bill 
introduced by Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.

Among other things, it would put Congress on record as recognizing 
the medical value of marijuana and prevent the federal government 
from interfering with any state-approved medical pot programs.

But it would not offer federal protections to anyone smoking pot 
without authorization from a doctor, including recreational users in 
Washington state and Colorado.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom