The Politics of Weed: Congress Will Be Voting on Toking

February 27, 2013

Sean Miller, TakePart

A motorcycle accident when he was 19 left New Englander Scott Murphy with a steel rod attached to his femur and four metal plates in his hip. It wasn’t enough to keep him out of the Army, but it did hasten his discharge.

Murphy’s condition deteriorated during his 18 months serving with an Army artillery unit in Iraq. The work required heavy lifting. He broke his wrist and developed a degenerative arthritic condition. Shortly after he came home in April 2008, he was rated 80 percent disabled and medically discharged after four years of service with the rank of specialist. Now, he’s fighting to get access to medical marijuana.

Despite living in his home state of Massachusetts, which passed a referendum in favor of medical marijuana last November, Murphy says he can’t get a prescription.

“I have conditions that fall under it, but I wouldn’t be able to get my [Veterans Affairs] doctor who I rely on” to prescribe it, the Iraq veteran tells TakePart. “All the studies in the world show medical marijuana is beneficial, but the role our federal government is playing right now is really hindering my safe access to medicine.”

The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which means that it has no medical value. At the same time, it considers Marinol, the drug derived from cannabis, a Schedule III, a controlled substance with medicinal value.

“All the federal government would have to do is change the scheduling from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 3.”

“All the federal government would have to do is change the scheduling from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 3,” Murphy says.

A federal change in drug classification would alleviate the anxiety that veterans, cancer patients and chronic pain sufferers experience even in states with legal medicinal marijuana. Even as states have begun liberalizing their individual pot laws, at the federal level, marijuana is still illegal—it’s ranked in the same classification of drugs as heroin. California, which has led the way in medical marijuana, still sees Drug Enforcement Administration raids on its dispensaries.

To clear up the confusion, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D) has introduced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana at the federal level. The bill has 13 co-sponsors, including California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. At a press conference announcing the bill on Monday, Blumenauer said: “It gets the federal government and the Department of Justice out of this never-never land.”

Murphy isn’t banking on the federal government easing its drug policy anytime soon. He’s working with Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group “promoting safe and legal access to cannabis,” and plans to form his own organization.

“I hope to start another group like Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access,” he says.

“For the state-to-state movement, it really helps to have not just the people with the obvious conditions pushing for it—people in wheelchairs, with [muscular dystrophy] or cancer—but regular-looking men and women that have these mental illnesses or pain associated with combat.”

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