Filner urges Obama to back off medical marijuana
November 01, 2011
Chris Cadelago, San Diego Union-Tribune
Rep. Bob Filner and several congressional colleagues are urging President Barack Obama to reclassify marijuana as a legitimate controlled substance for medicinal purposes under federal law.
In a letter dated Oct. 28, the lawmakers expressed concerns with the Justice Department’s recent crackdown against California medical marijuana dispensaries that are operating legally under state law. State and local governments must be allowed to develop and enforce their own public health laws with regard to medical cannabis, they wrote.
“During your presidential campaign, you repeatedly pledged to end federal raids against the individuals and collectives authorized by state law to use or provide medical cannabis, giving hope to patients who legitimately use medical cannabis to treat their conditions that their long struggle to safely access their medicine was finally over,” the letter states.
“By pursuing the same harsh policies that have been in place for years, we fear that the federal government will push legitimate patients back into the uncertainty and danger of the illicit market.”
California’s four U.S. attorneys held a news conference last month to announce statewide raids along with the mailing of letters to dozens of medical marijuana dispensary directors and their landlords warning them to close in 45 days or risk criminal prosecution and property confiscations.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy of San Diego referred to the state’s cannabis trade as a “pervasive, for-profit industry” that violates federal law and has little to do with providing medicine to the sick.
The Justice Department declined comment. The White House also would not comment on the Oct. 28 letter but pointed to a recent statement from the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy on regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
Responding to a petition on the White House website, Gil Kerlikowske cited National Institutes of Health research that marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease and cognitive impairment.
“Simply put, it is not a benign drug,” he wrote.
Kerlikowske said his office remains interested in the potential marijuana may have in providing relief to those with serious illnesses and supports ongoing research to determine what components of the cannabis plant can be used as medicine.
“To date, however, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition,” Kerlikowske wrote.
The Drug Enforcement Administration recently denied a petition to reschedule marijuana. But in their letter, the members of Congress said physicians would continue to recommend it to alleviate serious illnesses and medical conditions that have not responded to other medications and treatments.
Approved as a ballot measure in 1996, Proposition 215 allows patients with a doctor’s approval to use marijuana and receive it from their caregivers. The measure passed 56 percent to 44 percent statewide and 52 percent to 48 percent in San Diego County. State legislation in 2003 and guidelines from then-Attorney General Jerry Brown in 2009 authorized distribution by nonprofit collectives, but much of that was not delineated in law.
On Friday, Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced that proponents of an initiative to decriminalize marijuana — “Regulate Marijuana Like Wine” — can begin collecting petition signatures for the November ballot. They have until March 26 to collect 504,760 signatures from registered voters.
Filner, D-San Diego, is the first local federal or state lawmaker to publicly oppose the Obama administration’s recent enforcement efforts. Filner, who is running for mayor of San Diego, did not respond to several requests for comment. His major opponents are San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, all Republicans.
In a statement, Dumanis said she supports California’s medical marijuana laws. But she said the state remains at a crossroads in part because the voter-approved proposition and Senate bill were poorly written laws that continue to need clarification through additional state legislation.
“Voters passed the Compassionate Use Act 15 years ago,” said Dumanis, who pledged to bring all levels of government together to coordinate a lasting, legal solution. “This has been going on too long for us not to get it right.”
Fletcher said he respects the choice Californians made when approving compassionate marijuana use via Proposition 215. “However, when I am mayor it will be my job to ensure that San Diego is in compliance with federal law,” he said.
DeMaio’s campaign spokesman, Stephen Puetz, said the councilman was not interested in getting involved.
“Instead of getting in the middle of a federal and state squabble over this issue, the next mayor of San Diego should be focused on fixing the city’s financial mess — that is exactly what Carl is focused on and where he will continue to direct his energy,” Puetz said.
At least one major lawsuit has been filed against the federal government on behalf of patients, and more are expected. Americans for Safe Access brought the lawsuit last week in federal court, arguing that the Obama administration was attempting to subvert state and local medical marijuana laws.
The marijuana advocacy group cited examples in Sacramento and Eureka where officials suspended plans to issue operating permits for approved medical marijuana collectives. Meanwhile, separate lawsuits from patients, dispensaries and their landlords challenging the federal crackdown are expected.
Filner and the eight others who signed the letter detailed campaign statements by Obama and later memos from his administration signaling plans not to focus federal resources on individuals who were obeying state and local medical marijuana laws.
The bipartisan group of congressional members noted that the U.S. attorneys’ action against dispensaries in California comes after several months of “federal interference” in other states with laws that permit medical marijuana for the ill. That includes SWAT-style federal raids in at least seven such states and threats of criminal prosecution against state and local officials there.
The letter urged Obama to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II or III drug to effectively harmonize federal law with the laws of states. Or, it asked the president to publicly support legislation such as House Resolution 1983, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, that would change federal statute to achieve the same goal.
Filner and California Democratic Reps. Sam Farr, Mike Thompson, Pete Stark, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey signed the letter, along with Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.