Initiative 71, to fully legalize cannabis in our nation’s capital, passed with an overwhelming mandate garnering more than 70 percent of D.C. voters’ support. All it needed to move forward was the go-ahead from Congress.
With 2014 coming to a crashing close our congressional “leaders” have once again scrambled to put together a compromise omnibus budget bill to keep our federal government open and moving forward in the foreseeable future. It’s being called the “CROmnibus” bill and it’s 1,600+ pages just simply chock full of all kinds of frightening, if not downright disgusting, political monkeyshines the likes of which we’ve unfortunately seen time and time again.
While several of these issues come immediately to mind, here within the covers of the MMMR it’s best to concentrate on those that deal directly with the matters most dear to our reader’s hearts—namely cannabis. And there are two whopper cannabis issues addressed head on by this Act. Unfortunately, as usual, the respective riders proposed to the budget act by our illustrious servants in Congress send absolutely conflicting messages.
On the one hand, if you haven’t heard the fanfare yet, Congress has essentially ended the federal war on marijuana. Wait, WHAT?!?! How’s that you ask? Within the 1.1 trillion dollar budget spending bill just approved by the House and Senate lies an amendment that essentially blocks the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries or patients as long as they adhere to their own state’s rules and regulations. The rider, known as the Hinchey-Rohrbacher Amendment, is designed to ensure that patients will continue to have access to medical cannabis without fear of federal prosecution in those states that have enacted medical marijuana programs. This Amendment has been taken up by Congress several times before, beginning in 2007. The language finally written into the 2014 CROmnibus bill essentially declares: “None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used...to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”This is fantastic news. Especially for those of us who feel certain rogue federal prosecutors have ignored the Department of Justice’s pledge not to interfere with the implementation of states’ medical and adult-use cannabis regulations (I’m looking at YOU, California U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag!). It means medical patients and the folks they get their meds from can rest a bit easier about the federal government coming to bust down their doors in the middle of the night guns a’blazin’ no-knock-SWAT-team-style. [I wish we could say the same for our Nation’s state, county, and municipal police forces, eh?]
Unless, that is, they happen to live in the District of Columbia. For you see, not everyone is so peachy keen on States having their own rights to implement their own cannabis laws. Well, technically, D.C. is not a state. And while it has a representative in Congress, Ms. Elenor Holmes Norton does not actually have a vote that counts. Enter the not-so-honorable Republican representative from neighboring Maryland, Andy Harris (District 1). Now HE gets a vote that counts. And he introduced a rider to the CROmnibus bill to prevent the people of Washington D.C. from implementing their own mandated cannabis reformation.
Even before this budget bill was introduced, Mr. Harris, who does not represent any of the people the new law will effect, was already screaming about the passage of Initiative 71 by D.C. voters. Hiding behind a façade of concern for the children of the District, Harris declares, “I am glad Congress is going to, in a bipartisan way, uphold
federal law to protect our youth by preventing legalization in Washington, D.C. Numerous studies show the negative impact regular recreational marijuana use has on the developing brain and on future economic opportunities for those who use this illegal drug.”
Regardless of the fact that these statements are based on what have already been shown to be faulty studies, one must ask where this sudden concern is coming from. As it so happens, according to one blog, one of Harris’ largest donors is a company that produces a product to treat the pain associated with common complications from chemotherapy. Go figure. The prescription medication, Epsil, by Emergent is sold as a “fast-acting treatment that reduces the pain associated with oral mucositis (OM). By reducing the pain associated with OM, episil® may help you maintain proper nutrition and a level of comfort—and may allow you to continue your cancer therapy uninterrupted.”
It seems that cannabis may actually be a direct competitor, providing the same benefits this product claims to provide without the alcohol, propylene glycol, or polysorbate 80. And with no prescription required in a completely legal D.C., cannabis could actually dig into this company’s profits. It’s not like we haven’t heard this kind of noise before from the Cancer Industrial Complex. Could this have something to do with Harris’ motivation? The question certainly looms large in the wake of his actions.
Perhaps if Congressman Harris were actually concerned about the number of kids using cannabis he’d pay attention to the fact that teen use of cannabis has repeatedly been shown to be consistently DOWN in the states where medical and recreational cannabis have been made legal, including Colorado.
So which is it, Congress? Are we allowed to implement our cannabis rights at the state level or not? Sure, D.C. is technically not a state—and Mr. Harris was quick to point that out loudly and publicly. But isn’t that just a technicality? Why would Congress say it’s OK to implement cannabis rights in Maryland (which also has a medical marijuana program), while the Congressman from Maryland denies the same rights to his District neighbors?