Congressional Champions Introduce Legislation in Advance of Patient Lobbying Day

Today in Congress, Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Sam Farr introduced legislation that would reclassify cannabis (marijuana) for medical use and provide federal defendants the right to use state law compliance as evidence in medical marijuana trials, a right that patients are currently denied. These bills, the H.R. 689 "States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act," and the H.R. 710 "Truth in Trials Act" have been introduced in previous sessions of Congress, but many are optimistic that the 113th Congress will take the issue more seriously than in years past. One reason for this optimism is the first major federal medical cannabis patient lobbying day, which will be held on February 25th in support of these two bills.

The "States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act" was previously introduced by longtime medical cannabis champion and former Congressman Barney Frank. The new version authored by Rep. Blumenauer maintains all of the original provisions in the Frank-version, requiring the Federal government to move "marijuana" out of Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act to Schedule III or lower.  In addition, the bill includes a new provision that will make certain that the arm of the federal government that has hampered medical cannabis research, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will be completely taken out of the equation, by requiring federal oversight of medical cannabis to be consistent with therapeutic research on the medicinal value of cannabis, and not solely focused on its abuse potential.

Rep. Farr's Truth in Trials Act remains identical to previously introduced versions of the bill, but the need for such legislation has grown greater since it was last introduced in July 2012. The bill would allow patients, caregivers and providers who are in compliance with state law to offer evidence of the medical necessity for their use of cannabis. At present, patients might as well have their mouths duct taped when facing federal criminal charges. As a result of not being able to discuss their compliance with state law, patients and providers such as Chris Williams, the Duval family, and many others have been convicted and sentenced in federal court. If passed, the Truth in Trials Act would interject common sense and a more robust sense of justice to our legal system, as the defendant can be found guilty only for the portion of conduct outside of what is permitted by state law. While this bill may seem like a no-brainer to those in the safe access movement, Congress will likely only move forward with this bill if patients rally together and have their voice heard. There has never been a better time for patients to demand Congressional hearings on medical cannabis, but for this to happen, patients must speak truthfully and directly engage their members of Congress in both the House and Senate.

ASA has been working with Reps. Farr and Blumenauer, as well as a number of other Congressional offices in a bipartisan effort to introduce these bills in preparation of the lobby day that will conclude the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, D.C. Feb. 22-25. Hundreds of safe access advocates will be coming to D.C. that weekend not only to learn about the latest in medical cannabis research, but to become trained as skilled citizen-lobbyists by ASA's staff and partners. The conference attendees will take their message and training down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol where they will meet with members of both the House and Senate. What will happen on Feb. 25th is unprecedented; hundreds of Members of Congress will be directly lobbied by patients who are their constituents. Patients will be sharing their struggles to those who control the direction of federal policy.

Today's introductions by Reps. Blumenauer and Farr set the stage for the first federal lobby day for patients on February 25th, but the upcoming lobby day is only the beginning. Patients will need to continue to engage Congress throughout the 113th Congress, and the work that will take place that Monday will no doubt impact the momentum Congressional safe access action. There is still time to join ASA in for this day of citizen lobbying. I encourage everyone who has not signed up to do so, and  even if you are unable to take part collectively with us on the 25th, our Policy Shop is here to help you both with fact sheets on federal legislation and will provide feedback and guidance for working on state and local bills.