In 2014, Congress quietly ended the federal government’s prohibition on medical cannabis with a provision buried in the 1,603-page federal spending bill, The Los Angeles Times reported at the time. The rule says that states where medical cannabis is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations and prohibits agents from doing so. The change was prompted by bipartisan supporters. The change, however, does nothing to protect patients who use medical cannabis because the scientifically flawed and old federal law, favored by the Drug Enforcement Agency, still considers all cannabis a dangerous, addictive drug, with no medical use.
This year, for the first time ever, the Senate has joined the House in calling for a schedule reclassification for medical cannabis — from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 — acknowledging that it does have medical uses. In March, the Democratic and Republican senators introduced the “Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act,” which would also direct the federal government to stop prosecuting dispensaries in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, just as the provision in the spending bill did. The law would allow cannabidiol imports to help patients with epilepsy and seizure disorders, and allow Veterans Affairs doctors to prescribe medical cannabis.
Despite the bipartisan support, (not to mention petitions from governors, state attorneys general, police groups, medical groups, researchers and activists) the bill might be shut down by one man: Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, where the Senate bill was sent. Grassley has said he supports research into medical uses of marijuana, but won’t support the bill because he doesn’t want cannabis changed from a Schedule 1 drug. (Of course, research can’t happen until that reclassification is made.) His “argument,” as reported by the Des Moines Register: “Recent studies suggest marijuana use by young people can cause long-term and possibly permanent damage to brain development.” Which completely ignores the medical applications, of which there are many, and focuses on “recreational” use by teens. Which is to say, Grassley is ignoring the entire, actual content of the bill, which again, has to do with medicine.
It’s beyond frustrating to have non-scientists and non-medical people such as Grassley and DEA officials in Washington D.C., and the Washington state Liquor Control Board members here at home, deciding what policy should be regarding medical cannabis. Congress needs to collectively override Grassley and get the bill passed. The president, the attorney general and/or the DEA can also change the classification, but Congress might as well, since the bill has been introduced.
Of hundreds of examples of why this law needs changing, here’s one: This week the Colorado state Supreme Court ruled 6-0 that a medical cannabis patient who was fired after failing a drug test cannot get his job back, citing the federal law. The worker, Brandon Coats, is a quadriplegic who uses cannabis to calm violent muscle spasms. Coats, a telephone operator, was fired by Dish Network after failing a 2010 drug test. The company agreed that Coats wasn’t high on the job, but said it has a zero-tolerance drug policy.
Dish Network applauded this ruling, although it’s difficult to understand why: They lost a good worker, and good telephone operators are hard to find.
Change the federal classification of cannabis and let the states get on with research, and helping people, which in turn will lead businesses, such as Dish Network, to rethink their “zero-tolerance drug policy.” Because taking medicine, and not being high at work, shouldn’t get one fired.
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