A Bipartisan Effort to Let States Decide on Medical Marijuana


Sponsored by Ron Paul, Barney Frank, Dana Rohrabacher, and others, the bill would transform the drug war, but is unlikely to pass. 

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Say you've got cancer. It's important to your health that, as you undergo treatment, you keep eating meals. But you get so nauseous -- except for when you're able to smoke a bit of marijuana. Lucky for you, the state you live in, California, permits purchase of marijuana for medical use. But the federal government, though now presided over by a series of men who've all smoked weed for non-medical use, continues to harangue states with medical marijuana laws. Democrats are mostly okay with that, even though President Obama swore he'd put an end to the practice. And Republicans, who extol federalism and its laboratories of democracy, suddenly lose their selective enthusiasm for local control when the subject is decriminalizing a narcotic.*

But there are some members of Congress who are eager to protect medical-marijuana patients who abide by the laws of their states from being harassed by federal agents fighting the War on Drugs. "Any person facing prosecution or a proceeding for any marijuana-related offense under any Federal law shall have the right to introduce evidence demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with State law regarding the medical use of marijuana," the proposed legislation states.

It goes on:
It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution or proceeding under any Federal law for marijuana-related activities, which the proponent must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that those activities comply with State law regarding the medical use of marijuana."
Given the slim chances this bill has for passage, you'd think that it goes too far for the majority of Americans. The opposite is actually closer to the truth. According to Gallup, support for legalizing marijuana has been increasing for years in the U.S., and last year a majority of Americans favored legalizing marijuana outright, not just the stuff that various sicks folks use as medicine.

This more modest bill has official support from 15 Democrats and 3 Republicans in the House of Representatives, including Democrat Barney Frank and Republicans Ron Paul and Dana Rorhrabacher. When it fails, very sick people who use medical marijuana will continue to stress about being needlessly harassed by federal law-enforcement agents with absurd priorities.

*Conservatives never much troubled themselves about whether the government could force them to stop growing broccoli in their backyard. But it could using Justice Scalia's logic in the medical marijuana case of Gonzales vs. Raich. 
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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