Congressional Vote Thursday Maintains State Control over Medical Marijuana Laws

September 21, 2007
Washington, D.C. -- Both Houses of the U.S. Congress voted this week, with the Senate voting yesterday, to pass the "Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007," without a medical marijuana amendment that was objectionable to advocates. In April, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a staunch medical marijuana opponent, introduced an amendment to the legislation requiring that, "State-legalized medical marijuana be subject to the full regulatory requirements of the Food and Drug Administration. "

While the stated purpose of the Coburn amendment, "To evaluate the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana," appeared genuine, it was aimed at obstructing the effective implementation of medical marijuana laws in the twelve states that have adopted such laws. The amendment would have improperly provided authority to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate medical marijuana (cannabis) at the state level.

"We are thankful that Congress saw the virtue of maintaining state control of medical marijuana laws," said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs for Americans for Safe Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy group that worked to defeat the amendment. "Yet, Congress should take decisive action to develop and adopt sensible federal policy on medical marijuana." Woodson continued, "Why should the sick in only twelve states get to take advantage of the medical benefits of cannabis?"

Despite laws restricting the authority of the FDA to "new drugs" that cross state lines, the Coburn amendment attempted to expand that authority to medical marijuana grown, transported and consumed inside a state with its own regulatory laws. Within ten days after the introduction of the Coburn amendment, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reviewed the legislation and found that it was "poorly drafted," and that "the effect of the amendment appears unclear."

In the face of opposition by Committee Chair Senator Ted Kennedy and others, the amendment passed out of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in May, and then was subsequently approved by the full Senate. This spurred medical marijuana advocates like Americans for Safe Access, as well as HIV/AIDS groups, to successfully lobby the House to exclude similar language in its companion bill. This effort prevailed, and yesterday Congress overwhelmingly passed a compromise bill, which excluded the Coburn amendment.

"It's bad enough that the federal government has a monopoly on medical cannabis research, preventing proper investigation," said Woodson. "If Congress wants to address this issue effectively, it must allow for unfettered research and access in all states for those that benefit from medical marijuana."

Language of the Coburn amendment: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Coburn_Amendment.pdf
Report on Coburn amendment by Congressional Research Service: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/CRS_Report_Coburn.pdf

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