Rep. Barney Frank, the powerful House Democrat from Massachusetts, introduced a bill Thursday to allow states to make their own medical marijuana laws free of federal interference.
The bill would also move marijuana from the FDA's Schedule I to Schedule II. Its current designation indicates that it has no medical value, a high risk of abuse and is extremely harmful. By keeping marijuana in Schedule I, the federal government makes research into its medical benefits nearly impossible.
Moving marijuana to Schedule II would recognize its medical value, make access to it for research purposes easier and would facilitate the creation of a regulatory framework for the FDA to begin a drug approval process for marijuana.
The bill is HR 2835.
Frank's legislation would also explicitly protect patients from federal arrest in state's where medical marijuana is legal. (Rhode Island's governor vetoed on Friday a state bill that would have allowed medical marijuana sales by state-run dispensaries, despite the fact that Rhode Island already permits possession and use of medical pot.)
Charles C. Lynch could have used that protection. On Wednesday, the Moro Bay, Calif. medical marijuana shop owner was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison despite the fact that medical pot is legal in California and despite President Obama's earlier assurance that he would not interfere with the law. Unfortunately, Lynch was arrested during the Bush administration era.
"Years from now, Mr. Lynch may well be remembered as the last American to go to federal prison for a mistake, the final victim of an already repudiated policy well on its way to the ash heap of history, but whose mean-spirited effects still linger," said Marijuana Policy Project head Rob Kampia.
"This sentence is a cruel and pointless miscarriage of justice," Kampia said.
The sentence handed down by federal District Court Judge George H. Wu could have been worse. The Obama Justice Department wanted the mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. The Justice Department declined to comment on the sentencing.
The lack of clarity from the Obama administration on medical marijuana prompted Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) to introduce language Tuesday attached to a Commerce, Justice and Science Departments Appropriations bill seeking clarification on the policy.
"It's imperative that the federal government respect states' rights and stay out of the way of patients with debilitating diseases such as cancer who are using medical marijuana in accordance with state law to alleviate their pain," said Hinchey.
Ryan Grim is the author of the just-released book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America