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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

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Lawmakers Say No to Medical Marijuana

House Rejects an Amendment Barring Feds From States With Legalization
WebMD Health News

July 8, 2004 -- The House of Representatives has defeated a measure that would have barred drug officials from enforcing federal anti-marijuana laws. The federal government can prosecute people who use marijuana for medical reasons in states that allow medical use of the drug.

Lawmakers voted down the amendment, which would have allowed states with medical marijuana laws to regulate the practice without federal interference.

Nine states -- California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Nevada -- have laws allowing patients to legally use marijuana if it is recommended and supervised by a physician. California officials have clashed with federal drug enforcement agencies in recent years over federal raids of marijuana growing and distribution operations that were operating with a state license.

Federal officials have said that national drug laws override states laws or referenda supporting medical marijuana and that the raids are an important part of national drug control strategy.

The amendment had limited bipartisan support among lawmakers but was strongly opposed by the White House and several anti-drug groups.

"The legalization of medical marijuana is simply the first step in a scheme to overturn all the substance abuse laws that we work hard to enforce today," says Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.)

Some patients use marijuana for its ability to relieve a variety of symptoms, including pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy, muscle spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis, and extreme weight loss caused by AIDS.

A report from the Institute of Medicine in 1999 says marijuana holds promise for treating some symptoms but that smoking is an unreliable and dangerous form of drug delivery.

Supporters in the House say state medical marijuana laws have allowed doctors and patients to use the drug more responsibly. "Because of these state laws, thousands of patients are able to alleviate their pain and suffering without fear of arrest by state or local authorities," says Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.)

Courts Involved

The House rejected a similar measure last year. But a handful of federal courts have sided with states asking in effect to be exempt from federal marijuana laws when it comes to medical use.

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