Congress Ends Federal Ban on 'Medical Marijuana'

Congress Ends Federal Ban on 'Medical Marijuana'

In case you didn't read the recent federal spending bill approved by Congress just before Christmas - and at 1,603 pages you can be sure that even most Congressmen didn't read the bill - you and almost everyone else missed a little item that was quietly slipped into the bill to end the federal ban on 'medical marijuana'. The new legislation guarantees the rights of states to set their own policy on the use of marijuana for medical treatment. It forbids federal law enforcement agencies from intervening with the growing and selling of marijuana for medical purposes. This is the first really significant change in federal drug policy ever approved by Congress that aligns at least somewhat with the ideals promoted by marijuana legalization activists.

For decades, Congress has continued to disallow states from setting their own marijuana policies, ignoring public and scientific pressure. For example, when D.C. approved medical marijuana back in the late '90s, Congress stepped in and blocked the city's law for 11 years. Although many states already have approved the use of medical marijuana, the feds have always had the option to intervene and bring charges against those involved. In fact this has happened more than once in the past. But in recent years such actions have not been taken, due to pressure from the Obama White House for more permissive policy. In 2012, the Obama administration instructed federal prosecutors to stop enforcing drug laws that contradict state marijuana policies. Federal raids of state-legal growers and dealers “have been limited to those accused of other violations, such as money laundering,” said a report in the Los Angeles Times. Now, with the passage of the federal bill, states officially no longer have to worry about DEA and FBI agents knocking down the doors of medical pot growers and sellers with arrest warrants. But the classification of marijuana as a schedule 1 drug has not changed.

Schedule 1 is the most tightly restricted category, assigned to drugs which are considered the most dangerous and have “no currently accepted medical use.” The possession, use, and sale of marijuana, including processed preparations containing the psychoactive cannabinoids in any form, has been subject to legal restrictions since the early 20th century. It's still illegal in most countries of the world, and a United Nations report calls marijuana the “most-used illicit drug in the world.” The inclusion of the new medical marijuana law in the spending bill came at the end of the year, just days before Republicans took over their majority in Congress and the House.

It appears to have been a last-minute response to heavy lobbying of Congress by legalization activists who insisted that a less-tolerant future administration could toss out Obama's more permissive policies. And according to the LA Times, Congress' action “marked the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics: Republicans are taking a prominent role in backing states' right to allow use of a drug the federal government still officially classifies as more dangerous than cocaine.” “This is a victory for so many,” said the measure's coauthor, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa. The measure's approval, he said, represents “the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana.” “The war on medical marijuana is over,” said Bill Piper, a lobbyist with the Drug Policy Alliance, who called the move historic. Quoted in the LA Times, Piper added, “Now the fight moves on to legalization of all marijuana.”

Not a victory for Americans, says Novus chief executive

Kent Runyon, Executive Director of Novus Medical Detox Center, said the new legislation will be welcomed by those with serious conditions where medical marijuana may appear to be their best option. He pointed out, however, that there are proven alternatives to smoking marijuana that effectively deliver the therapeutic ingredients without the risk of the drug being diverted for recreational use which could lead to new problems. As a detox professional who deals with the harsh facts of addiction every day, Runyon said there should be medical use guidelines in place to help protect against exposing children to marijuana. “We certainly aren't opposed to appropriate and responsible use of medical marijuana,” he said. “But there are also known risks and negative consequences associated with regular recreational use, especially for our youth.” It isn't going to be smooth sailing for the legalization of recreational use, however. Many Congressmen are still uncomfortable with the idea, especially Republicans.

Surveys show that Republican voters are overwhelmingly against it, which will strongly influence how Republican lawmakers vote in Congress should such a vote arise. Here at Novus, many of our patients can point to marijuana as an early precursor to dependence and addiction to opiates, cocaine, alcohol and other drugs, usually starting in the teen years. So although a medical detox is not needful for someone using solely marijuana, we are aware of the problems that can begin with recreational marijuana use or the complications of marijuana use combined with other drug use. If you or someone you care for has an alcohol or drug dependence, please call us right away. We can help you make the best choice for treatment.

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