Medical marijuana advocates implore Congress for reform

May 03, 2005

Erica Werner, Associated Press

With a key Supreme Court decision on medical marijuana pending, advocates pleaded with Congress on Wednesday to let patients use the drug without fear of federal prosecution.

'It is absolutely cruel that the federal government does not allow us the right to use this medicine,' said Angel Raich of Oakland, Calif., who began using marijuana to combat the pain of a brain tumor and filed the lawsuit that's before the court.

'It is not easy for us patients that really need this medicine to come out here, to have to fight for our lives on this kind of level,' she said.

Raich was joined at a Capitol Hill news conference by talk show host Montel Williams, who said legal painkillers don't help his multiple sclerosis, and by a bipartisan group of lawmakers who endorsed legislation allowing states to make their own rules on medical marijuana.

Ten states have laws that allow residents to use marijuana for medical purposes - California, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Maine, Montana, Hawaii and Vermont.

Despite such laws, the Supreme Court refused four years ago to protect distributors of marijuana from federal anti-drug charges. Now justices are deliberating whether federal drug agents can go after patients in the states where the drug is allowed for medical purposes. That's the case Raich and another California woman, Diane Monson, brought after federal agents confiscated marijuana plants from Monson's yard.

A ruling could come as early as May 16, and while Raich and others hope it will be favorable they also want Congress to act. Past attempts to pass legislation allowing states to make their own medical marijuana laws have not succeeded, but five lawmakers from opposite ends of the political spectrum said Wednesday they'd keep trying.

'The notion that a state-sanctioned practice of medicine ought to be criminalized really makes no sense,' said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who said he was reintroducing the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act.

Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said they would offer an amendment to a spending bill on the House floor to bar the Justice Department from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana use.

'It makes no sense at all to have the federal government overriding a vote of the people of a state on what should be criminalized and what shouldn't be criminalized in terms of personal consumption,' Rohrabacher said.

Also supporting the legislative moves were Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Ron Paul, R-Texas.

'This is about access for people in pain,' Farr said.

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