Movement for legalization of medical marijuana pushes on

October 19, 2005

Meghan Meyer, Palm Beach Post

Despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that many considered a blow to the medical-marijuana movement, supporters of such laws have pressed on with state ballot initiatives and lobbying campaigns, the director of a marijuana-policy reform group told an audience at Florida Atlantic University Wednesday.

Rhode Island is teetering on the edge of becoming the eleventh state to allow patients to use marijuana medically, and two Michigan cities have medical-marijuana ballot initiatives coming up in the next few weeks, Rob Kampia, director of the Washington, D.C.

-based Marijuana Policy Project said.

"If we had won the Supreme Court case, the federal government's war on medical marijuana would have effectively been over," Kampia said. "The case doesn't change anything. It just maintains the status quo."

The Supreme Court decided by a 6 to 3 vote in June that the federal government has the authority to ban using and cultivating marijuana, even for patients growing small amounts for their own medical use in states that allow it. In the case, Gonzales v. Raich, two California women who grow marijuana to treat serious medical conditions sued the government to stop enforcement of the federal ban on the drug. The ruling didn't overturn laws like California's that allow medical use of marijuana.

Kampia, who spoke to an audience of about two dozen FAU students, became involved in the politics of marijuana after he spent three months in jail for growing pot while a student at Penn State. His experience made him angry, but it was nothing like what other marijuana users endured recently. Among the stories Kampia told was one about a quadriplegic man in Washington, D.C. who died in custody after he didn't receive the medical attention he needed while in jail on marijuana-possession charges.

"DC has bigger problems than a quadriplegic who's using marijuana for medical purposes," Kampia said.

The Supreme Court ruling indicated that Congress, not the Court, must change the federal law, Kampia said. And his organization has moved closer to garnering the 218 votes needed to pass a bill in the House of Representatives. A recent vote on an amendment that would have prohibited the federal government from spending money to go after medical-marijuana users in states where it's legal failed. But the amendment had 161 votes, more than ever before.

"We're probably not going to succeed within the year," Kampia said. "but the end is in sight."


Meghan Meyer writes for the Palm Beach Post. E-mail:


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