Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Growth Of Medical Marijuana As A Salient Political Issue


The video above is from a hearing of the Michigan state legislature not the U.S. Congress. And the hearing is about abuse of forfeiture laws, not about medical marijuana itself. On April 30 the House voted on an amendment offered by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that was meant to "prohibit the use of funds to implement, administer, or enforce Veterans Health Administration directive 2011-004 with respect to the prohibition on 'VA providers for completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran's participation in a State marijuana program.'" Yes, medical professionals are not even allowed to discuss medical marijuana use with patients in states that have made it legal. Blumenauer's amendment failed 210-213. California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative, led 34 other Republicans across the aisle to vote for Blumenauer's amendment, which was supported by the Democratic leadership and all but 8 Democrats, the 8 being, generally speaking, the scum of the earth and, at least in their matter, no better than a garden variety blood-sucking Republican who cringes at the thought of providing comfort and solace to the old and infirm and to their own constituents suffering from terminal illnesses. These were the treacherous Democrats, daring you to vote them out of office in 2016:
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
John Garamendi (CA)
Bill Keating (MA)
Joe Kennedy (MA)
Sandy Levin (MI)
Dan Lipinski (Blue Dog-IL)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Terri Sewell (New Dem-AL)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a New Dem and a virulent and determined opponent of medical marijuana, ducked the roll call but voted with the Republicans against legalization last time it came to a vote-- a year and 2 days ago, when Republican Dana Rohrabacher proposed it. That time it passed 219-189 with 16 other backward Democrats joining Wasserman Schultz's march across the aisle. These were the Democrats who voted with most of the GOP against it:
John Barrow (Blue Dog-GA)
Karen Bass (D-CA)
Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Pete Gallego (Blue Dog-TX)
Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX)
Bill Keating (D-MA)
Joe Kennedy (D-MA)
Sandy Levin (D-MI)
Dan Lipinski (Blue Dog-IL)
Jim Matheson (Blue Dog-UT)
Mike McIntyre (Blue Dog-NC)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Nick Rahall (Blue Dog-WV)
Terri Sewell (New Dem-AL)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (New Dem-FL)
Frederica Wilson (D-DL)
5 of the above were subsequently defeated for reelection or forced to retire by Democrats who were sick of their Republican-lite game-playing. Although I stopped using marijuana in 1969, a struggle with cancer brought it back into my life, this time for pain management. Medical marijuana is somewhat legal in California and generally speaking, patients are not abused by the police, even if the confusing and inconsistent laws are troublesome and confusing for sick and suffering patients and their doctors. Michiganders are in a similar, although somewhat worse, situation, as you probably concluded from the video up top or from the reporting on Ginnifer Hency's case.
Hency explained that her neurologist had recommended medical marijuana to treat pain associated with multiple sclerosis. She is also registered in the state of Michigan as a caregiver for five other patients, giving her the ability to distribute medical marijuana.

Hency said that the six ounces in her locked backpack were in compliance with Michigan medical marijuana laws when a drug task force raided her home with four children present.

“They took everything, even though I was fully compliant with the Michigan medical marijuana laws,” she said. “They charged me with possession with intent to deliver, even though I’m allowed to posses and deliver.”

A St. Clair County judge dropped the charges against Hency, but for 10 months law enforcement officials have refused to give back her belongings.

“They have had my stuff for 10 months, my ladder, my iPad, my children’s iPads, my children’s phones, my medicine for my patients,” Hency noted. “Why a ladder? Why my vibrator, I don’t know either. Why TVs?”

“The prosecutor came out to me and said, ‘Well, I can still beat you in civil court. I can still take your stuff.’” Hency recalled, adding, “I was at a loss. I literally just sat there dumbfounded.”

“And I was just sitting there, like, thinking I was going to be able to get my stuff back, but not in this country. And that is why civil asset forfeiture in this state needs to change.”

According to Sullum, the Michigan House Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would require local law enforcement agencies to report forfeitures to the state police, and it would raise the standard of proof required for civil forfeiture in drug cases.

But under the proposed law, local agencies would continue to keep 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeitures, “which gives them a strong incentive to target people based on the assets they own instead of the threat they pose to public safety,” Sullum wrote.
The ugly mess around legislators' unwillingness to deal humanely with medical marijuana in not yet a major campaign there-- but it is headed in that direction. People don't like being screwed around with the way puritanical politicians are using their own insecurities about marijuana to make the lives of sick people unbearable. Last May 17 Democrats voted with the GOP against medical marijuana. One year later, only 8 Democrats crossed the aisle. Today when I talk with candidates about medical marijuana they all start with a story about a relative close friend, usually with cancer or some other catastrophic disease, finding solace with medical marijuana-- or, not being permitted to have their agony eased with the harmless substance. As we mentioned last month, Blue America endorsed candidates and the incumbents we support favor legalizing medical marijuana for patients under doctors' supervision.

Mark Pocan, the wildly popular progressive leader from Madison, Wisconsin, warned us: "Make no mistake, our nation’s current drug policy is a broken relic of the last century. The 'War on Drugs' has cost the American taxpayer billions of dollars-- over $5 billion dollars is spent on enforcement of federal marijuana laws, including incarceration. In the past five years more than 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. It’s time to bring federal marijuana policy in to the 21st century. Marijuana should be legalized and regulated at the federal level. We need to stop misusing federal tax dollars to prosecute non-violent crimes."

And Pocan is far from the only younger Member who understands the ramifications of the debate. El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who wrote a book about marijuana legalization, told us that if medical marijuana "relieves pain and improves quality of life, and is already legal in one form or another in half the states, why would we stand in the way of allowing doctors to prescribe their preferred treatment when it happens to be marijuana?"

And in California, where, at least technically, medical marijuana is already legal, one of our favorite incumbents and one of our favorite challengers, respectively Ted Lieu and Lou Vince, are commonsense backers of the humane approach. "In an era of limited resources," Lieu told us 2 weeks ago, "it is insane to have federal investigators and prosecutors devote even one second of their time to investigating or prosecuting marijuana cases. This insanity rises to new levels when medical evidence shows marijuana can be useful in treating a variety of medical conditions. The current system is also corrosive to our democracy because states are now routinely ignoring the outdated federal law that criminalizes marijuana. It is time to stop the federal criminalization of marijuana." 

Lou Vince, an ex-marine and LAPD officer who is running in CA-25 (Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and the Antelope Valley) took a very pragmatic perspective: "According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, police arrest more Americans per year on marijuana charges than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Decriminalizing marijuana frees up law enforcement resources to deal with more serious crimes. Nationwide, more than 60,000 individuals are behind bars for marijuana offenses at a cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion per year. Furthermore, Decriminalizing Marijuana will go a long way to reduce the mass incarceration problem we face in America. Marijuana prohibition laws have been used to put African Americans in handcuffs at a much higher rate than whites-- black people are three times as likely to be arrested for personal marijuana possession even though young blacks consume marijuana at lower levels than young whites."

Alex Law will have just turned 25, the minimum age for occupying a House seat, by the time he beats Donald Norcross in New Jersey's first congressional district across the river from Philly. Although he talks a lot in his campaign about protecting Medicare and Social Security benefits for seniors, his age predicts he would be more open-minded about the benefits of medical marijuana than most elderly, brain-washed politicians are. "In America," he told us this morning, "we have a creed that we are the 'Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave' but truth be told, America has the largest percentage of its population in prison of all the countries in the civilized world. Crimes related to marijuana contribute significantly to that terrible reality. The legalization of marijuana is important for our society. The war against marijuana, a substance science has proven to have real medical benefits and to be significantly less harmful than other legal substances, has contributed to bankrupting many of our states. The war on marijuana has turned many nonviolent members of society into criminals. This is also an issue of racial equality. White Americans use marijuana at the same rate as African Americans, yet an overwhelming majority of arrests are of African American males. The enforcement of the current drug laws is just as wrong as the laws themselves. It is time we make the American deed match the American creed.

"States have long been considered he laboratories of democracy," Alex continued. This issue is no exception. Colorado has legalized marijuana and seen a huge net positive from that decision. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, there is a booming industry creating new middle class jobs, and the state has seen an increase in tourism. All of this has happened without any access to capital markets. The growth would explode even more if these new companies had access to financing, an ability to take credit card payment, and an ability to expand out of state. The federal government should follow Colorado’s lead and legalize marijuana in America. As progressives, this is a policy we must endorse."

Jason Ritchie is an entrepreneur from the Seattle area and he's running for the swing seat currently held by rabid anti-pot Republican Dave Reichert. "In 1998," said Jason, "the people of my State of Washington voted to become one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana. In 2012, they again set a precedent by voting overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana commercial sales. Our State legislature responded and set up a reasonable regulatory and tax structure. This has happened without incident, except for intransigent Republicans like Rep. Dave Reichert who continue to insist their values should supersede the will of the people. His arrogant and baseless opposition only serves to marginalize him from the people he purports to represent. I strongly support marijuana legalization in Washington State and look forward to ending mass incarcerations for non-violent drug possession."

Illinois state Senator Mike Noland is the lead sponsor of a bill in the Illinois General Assembly to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. He's running for the House seat Tammy Duckworth is giving up and when he's in Congress, he will be counted on to be another clear voice in favor of legalization of medical marijuana. This is what he told us just a few minutes ago:

The time has come to allow patients to gain access to medical marijuana. Too many people are unnecessarily suffering when there is a natural alternative that can provide much relief from pain and other debilitating symptoms.

The medical community provides more than enough justification to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

The American Medical Association has long supported research on medical marijuana.

What is known is that the ‘high’ experienced by those who use marijuana is from only one component: Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.  What’s more, our bodies contain a natural cannabinoid that regulates health and wellness.  Indeed, our systems are pre-programmed to work with the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, which may be superior to narcotic painkillers for neuropathy, or nerve pain. Moreover, marijuana can decrease the amount of narcotics needed for pain relief. Yet the science is unequivocal, unlike narcotic painkillers, marijuana has only the same addictive potential as caffeine.

Marijuana’s main side effect is euphoria, and is often used as a sedative for cancer patients.  In fact, it is currently being studied as a treatment for various forms of cancer itself.

The medical use of marijuana has also been shown to relieve the affects of both symptoms and the pain associated with AIDS/HIV, Arthritis, Asthma, Chronic Pain, Crohn’s Disease, Epilepsy, Glaucoma and Multiple Sclerosis. So, many people are suffering unnecessarily when there is a real possibility for hope and relief.

I am proud of my past support of this cause in the Illinois Senate and plan to continue to support the science-based policy of legalized medical marijuana.
If you'd like to help elect candidates like Jason, Alex, Mike and Lou, Blue America has a page for that. Medical marijuana won't legalize itself. We need to elect more progressives to Congress-- lots more. The last time Congress voted on legalizing marijuana, in late April, the proposal was defeated 210-213. 175 Democrats and 35 Republicans voted for legalization. 8 backward Democrats and 205 Republicans-- including Dave Reichert, of course-- voted to kill the legislation.

If you get a catastrophic illness, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Dan Lipinski, like most Republicans, prefer that you suffer in agony rather than see medical marijuana legalized

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