June 4, 2004 -- Backers of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes staged protests at more than 100 U.S. congressional offices and campaign headquarters nationwide Friday in an effort to drum up support for a bill that weakens federal drug agents' authority in some states.
The protests targeted lawmakers who last year voted against an amendment that would bar the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from arresting persons who dispense or possess marijuana in accordance with state law.
Nine states allow individuals to grow or possess marijuana as long as a doctor attests that it is used to treat a defined medical condition.
Our coalition -- made up of the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and the Drug Policy Alliance -- is targeting any lawmakers we have reason to believe would stand up for states' rights or medical marijuana, says Tyler H. Smith, operations manager for the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.
Smith and about 10 others staged a protest outside the Greenbelt, Md., district office of Rep. Steny Hoyer. The Democrat voted against the amendment as part of the Department of Justice appropriations bill last summer.
Katie Elbert, a spokeswoman for Hoyer, says the congressman will "certainly review" the materials left in his office by the protesters. "His intention will be to oppose the amendment again should it be introduced."
As many as 135 other protests took place nationwide, according to Aaron Houston, national field director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-medical marijuana group.
Despite the call for support of the bill, neither of its original sponsors has confirmed that they will pursue it when the Fiscal 2005 Justice appropriations bill comes up at the end of this month or in July.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who sponsored the amendment last year with Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), has not yet decided to push it again, according to spokesman Aaron Lewis. "Maybe if there's an opportunity on the House floor, but he just doesn't know yet," he says.
"The congressman introduced this bill as a matter of states' rights more than anything else," he says.
Medicine vs. Drug Abuse
Patients have used marijuana to treat symptoms of a number of diseases, including cataracts, multiple sclerosis, nausea associated with chemotherapy, and wasting due to AIDS. A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that marijuana's constituents could be useful in treating some disease symptoms but that smoking the drug was dangerous and not a favorable route of drug delivery.
Vermont, the most recent state to permit medical marijuana use, passed a law in May allowing patients with certain diseases to use the drug for relief of symptoms. Maryland earlier this year began allowing persons convicted of marijuana possession to use medical necessity as a defense in a bid for lighter sentences.
But these efforts don't move White House drug officials, who remain staunchly opposed to allowing any form of legal marijuana use.
Allowing legalization of marijuana threatens to produce more drug users at a time when the government is desperately trying to lower abuse numbers, says Andrea Barthwell, MD, deputy director for demand reduction at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
"The single largest threat to the treatment system is the generation of new users," she tells WebMD. Drug control efforts, especially those targeted at children, "are complicated by a message that marijuana is a harmful drug and it is in fact a medicine and can be good for you."