Nearly one hundred members of Congress expressed their support for a seriously ill patient's right to medical marijuana during a historic vote on the House floor Tuesday. The vote marked the first time in recent memory the House has deliberated over the issue of medical marijuana.
The strong show of support surprised majority Republicans, but failed to prevent the passage of a House Joint Resolution expressing opposition to statewide efforts to legalize medical marijuana under a doctor's supervision. The House approved the measure by a vote of 310-93.
NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup voiced a mixed reaction to the vote. "On the down side, this vote demonstrates how out of touch Congress is with the American people on this issue," he said. "On the positive side, we now have a significant base of support for medical marijuana on which to build in the next Congress." Stroup noted that NORML waged a high profile campaign against the measure, and generated more than 4,500 faxes to House members in support of medical marijuana.
Representatives William Delahunt (D-Mass.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) led the charge against the resolution, sparking a heated, forty minute debate. Also expressing their opposition to the measure were Reps. Julian Dixon (R-Calif.), Gerald Nadler (D-NY), and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
"Republican leadership ... want[s] to deprive seriously ill patients of potential therapies because they have a political agenda," said Rep. Waxman. "They think we should just say no to sick and dying patients because it looks like we are getting tough on illegal drugs."
Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett agreed. "The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most respected publications in the medical community in this country, and a number of oncologists ... believe that [marijuana] has [medical] benefits, and for this Congress to mingle politics into medicine is a mistake," Doggett said. "The basic difference we have on this issue is whether we entrust [a medical] decision to the scientific community, to the medical community, or repeatedly turn to Dr. Newt [Gingrich]."
Longtime champion for medical marijuana reform, Rep. Barney Frank, criticized the resolution for failing to separate the medical use of marijuana from the issue of recreational drug use. Such a policy diminishes the credibility of our nation's overall anti-drug campaigns, he argued. Representative Delahunt agreed.
"What [this resolution] is saying is that we are willing to allow patients to suffer excruciating, debilitating conditions so as to not send a signal to others who might wish to use [marijuana] recreationally," Delahunt argued. "With all due respect, I do not believe that anyone who has watched an AIDS or cancer patient suffer ... could make such a statement. That is not the signal that we want to send."
Joint House Resolution 117 expresses a "sense of the Congress ... [in] support of the existing federal legal process for determining the safety and efficacy of drugs, and opposes efforts to circumvent this process by legalizing marijuana." Backers of the measure significantly watered down the bill's language at the last minute to assure passage. An earlier version of the measure sought to express a "sense of the Congress that marijuana is "a dangerous and addictive drug [that] should not be legalized for medical use." Resolution sponsor Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) also amended the measure to remove language urging the defeat of upcoming state ballot initiatives that seek to legalize medical marijuana. Ironically, McCollum previously introduced legislation in Congress to permit the legal use of medical marijuana in 1981 and 1983.
For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.