GOP Lawmakers Target D.C.'s Effort To Decriminalize Marijuana

GOP Lawmakers Target D.C.'s Effort To Decriminalize Marijuana
UNITED STATES ? FEBRUARY 2: Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., conducts the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup hearing of 'The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act' on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES ? FEBRUARY 2: Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., conducts the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup hearing of 'The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act' on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

WASHINGTON -- A Republican-led House subcommittee will hold a hearing next month to examine the District of Columbia's decision to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The decriminalization bill was passed by the D.C. Council in February and signed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray late last month. Before the law can go into effect, Congress has 60 days to disapprove it.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in a statement that she was surprised the subcommittee would single out the D.C. measure. But she said she appreciated the fact that Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Operations, is allowing her to testify and question witnesses even though she is not a member of the subcommittee.

"It is inappropriate to hold a hearing on the local marijuana laws of only one jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, when 18 states have decriminalized marijuana, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana and two states have legalized marijuana," Norton said in her statement.

"There is nothing that distinguishes the District from these states except for Congress’s illegitimate power to overturn the democratically enacted local laws of the District," Norton continued. "What is clear is that the enforcement of marijuana laws here and throughout the country has a disproportionately unfair effect on African American men and boys, leaving them with criminal records that often cripple them for the rest of their lives."

A spokeswoman for the House Oversight Committee said the hearing would be part of an ongoing examination of the tension between federal marijuana law and state and local marijuana laws, pointing to a previous hearing on legalization in Colorado and Washington state. At the earlier event, a top Drug Enforcement Administration official proclaimed that legalizing marijuana "insults" the common values of Americans and that "every single parent out there" opposes it.

Committee spokeswoman Becca Glover Watkins also pointed to differences in how criminal laws are enforced in the District and the states. "Though there are many parallels to the situation in states like Colorado, the District of Columbia utilizes the Federal Court systems for prosecuting many offenses and an array of law enforcement agencies maintain a significant presence due to the foot print of the Federal government in our nation's capital," Watkins said in her statement to The Huffington Post.

"How will these agencies enforce the law? The Committee continues to examine these unique factors as part of its broader examination of tension between federal and local marijuana laws in many jurisdictions. The Committee will release more information as its efforts move forward," Watkins continued.

In D.C., prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia enforce both federal and local laws. U.S. Attorney Ron Machen hasn't formally weighed in on the new law, but said last year there were "a lot of problems" with decriminalizing marijuana.

About 3,000 people were arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in the District in 2012, and roughly 2,000 were charged. Most of them entered diversion programs or had their cases dismissed, and only 5 percent of those arrested served any jail time, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Asked about the District's decriminalization of marijuana earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told The Huffington Post that as a former D.C. judge, he didn't think it made sense to send people to jail on possession charges, but he avoided directly endorsing the law.

"We'll see how it works in Washington, D.C.," Holder, a District resident, said.

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Before You Go

In Israel, there is technically no legislation regulating marijuana for medical purposes but its Ministry of Health issues special licences allowing patients to use cannabis for certain medical reasons.

The country has been at the forefront of medical marijuana research since the 1960s, when Prof. Raphael Mechoulam isolated and studied THC, the psychoactive property in cannabis that leaves users feeling “stoned” but also helps relieve symptoms like food aversion and nausea.

Another Israeli professor, Ruth Gallily of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has studied the other main medicinal ingredient CBD, the property that can act as an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety medicine.

Canadian licensed producer MedReLeaf has partnered with Tikun Olam, Israel’s primary supplier of medical cannabis, and a company on the cutting edge of marijuana advancement. It counts Mechoulam, “the grandfather of THC,” among its advisers.

“It’s the only country that I know that has been researching it for so long, and consistently,” said Maayan Weisberg, Director of Marketing and Business Development during an interview at MedReLeaf’s Markham, Ont., facility.

MedReLeaf has licensed some of Tikun Olam’s patented strains of marijuana that the company developed based on research collected from about 7,000 patients over the past seven years. Now, the company is involved in clinical research in major hospitals in Israel.

“We are the only company in the world that has this accumulated data about patients,” Weisberg said.

Tikun Olam, whose name means “healing the world” in Hebrew, has used patient feedback to create hybrid strains and play with genetic material. The company has experimented with different concentrations and ratios of cannabinoids to customize treatment for different types of patients.

“If it’s an elderly patient, you don’t instruct them the same way you do a child, you don’t instruct a Parkinson's patient the same as you do a cancer patient.”

Israeli researchers have studied the role of cannabis in treating a variety of ailments including anti-tumour properties for cancer patients, reducing weight loss among HIV patients, treating neuropsychological disorders and preventing tremors and shaking in multiple sclerosis sufferers.

The researchers last year found evidence that marijuana helps fight Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease.
The Netherlands
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Though the Netherlands legalized medical marijuana two years after Canada, its main provider has enjoyed more freedom to experiment than Canada’s former sole provider CanniMed, which was limited to one strain under the government’s old program.

Unlike in Canada, medical marijuana has been available through pharmacies since 2003 through a government agency that also works with universities and research institutes.

There is one major supplier in Holland — Bedrocan, which has used feedback from patients, epidemiological studies and genetics to develop three strains of marijuana to cater to specific needs. Bedrocan also ships to other European countries that allow medical marijuana. It is working to develop clinical trials in Holland.

Bedrocan’s three strains are all covered by Holland’s largest health insurer, and a majority of physicians support its use.

Now, Bedrocan Canada, a sister company that is importing product from Holland, is one of 12 licensed producers under Canada’s new medical marijuana free market.

Though the Canadian ruling came first, the country is still far behind in developing medical marijuana in part due to how the drug was introduced. In Canada, a Supreme Court ruling forced the government’s hand and made it possible to access cannabis for medical reasons, whereas in the Netherlands, medical usage became available because of a sympathetic government .

“The program in Canada has been forced upon Health Canada by the Supreme Court whereas in the Netherlands it was developed out of a compassionate use for patients so they have a lot more liberal attitude towards cannabis and how it can benefit,” said Marc Wayne, head of Bedrocan Canada.

He blames a change in government funding policy that was ushered in by the Harper government eight years ago for cutting off experimentation with therapeutic uses of ganja.

“On the scientific level we’ve been kind of stunted in Canada.”

Under a program that started April 1, which allows commercial-sized grow operations, research funding will be left up to the private sector. In the Netherlands, Wayne explained, Bedrocan is funding much of the research.

“It definitely influences what strains are brought to market,” Wayne said, adding that patient research is behind the six strains Bedrocan now has available.
United States
Licensed Canadian producers are turning south of the border for marijuana growing know-how.

Tweed Inc. of Smiths Falls, Ont., did research in Colorado and turned to Maine to find master grower Ryan Douglas, who worked for a state-level medical marijuana facility. There, he oversaw 20 strains of grass. Similar advancements are taking place at the state level across the U.S.

Yes, even Canada’s War on Drugs-focused neighbour is making strides in the development of new marijuana strains. Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, more than 20 states now allow medical marijuana usage and two states allow recreational use. An additional 12 states now have legalizing recreational marijuana use on the agenda.

There is research being done in universities and institutes, and even the American Medical Association has endorsed the reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I “most dangerous” drug to allow for further study.

Though officially opposed to its use as a medicine, the U.S. actually holds patents for cannabinoids.

Most recently, a proposal to study the effectiveness of cannabis in treating post-traumatic stress disorder got the green light from two U.S. federal agencies. Researchers are waiting on the Drug Enforcement Agency for the go-ahead for a clinical study at the federal level. The FDA has also approved clinical trials for the use of marijuana in treating epilepsy.

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