Obama Presidency
Obama Presidency

Why is Medical Marijuana Finally Becoming an American Policy?

| by ASA
As many of you know by now, on Wednesday U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters at a press conference, while standing next to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart that ending federal raids on medical cannabis dispensaries “is now American policy.” This unprecedented comment comes on the heels of a statement on February 4 by White House Spokesman Nick Shapiro reiterating the President’s campaign pledges to stop wasting federal resources in efforts to circumvent state medical cannabis laws.

Congress has also tossed its weight behind medical cannabis reforms. US House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) sharply criticized DEA interference and intimidation in medical cannabis states last year. On February 6, Congressman John Olver (D-MA) and fifteen of his colleagues sent the Attorney General a letter asking him to abandon his predecessor’s policy of blocking medical cannabis research; and Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) asked him to stop threatening California property owners who rent to medical cannabis providers on February 16.

Why is this happening now? How is it that patients are now getting the attention of policy makers? Of course, having levelheaded President in the White House helps. But there are more fundamental causes to explain this sea change in Washington.

One is that over the years, despite the fear created by Bush’s outdated policy, thousands of you have stood up to policies you knew were wrong. Thousands of you educated your communities, elected officials, friends and neighbors about the medical cannabis. We all helped build a movement that generated hundreds of thousands of phone calls and emails to the White House following the raids in CA and when the Obama Administration asked for citizens to weigh in on Change.gov. Though ASA chapters, e-mail lists and coalitions WE held the Obama Administration accountable. And as a patient, I am very proud of us all.

Another factor forcing change is a little harder too see. ASA opened the first office in Washington, DC, dedicated exclusively to medical cannabis advocacy in 2006. Until then, medical cannabis was part of a larger criminal justice and drug policy debate. Through tireless lobbying in DC, with condition-based allies, and your work at home, ASA put the debate squarely where it belongs: in the field of health care. We have done a lot of the necessary legwork to build our capacity in Congress and improve understanding about medical cannabis in the federal government since then. That long-term strategic work is paying off now that the new President and his appointees signal an opportunity for change. Congress and the new Administration are looking to us for direction.

We are looking forward to working with the Obama Administration to harmonize the conflict with state law once and for all. ASA has spent the last seven years not only fighting to protect patients’ rights but we have also been working with patients, providers, doctors, and scientists to develop a comprehensive plan to move this issue forward. We are working with members of Congress to make those polices a reality and with a supportive administration I am confident that soon medical cannabis will no longer be a political issue but simply a conversation between a doctor and a patient, and a patient and his/her provider.

To accomplish this, we must take this momentum directly to Congress with strategic lobbying, supported by an organized and trained grassroots base. We are ready to do this because ASA has built the relationships and credibility we need to make it happen. We have distributed our recommendations for policy changes to President Obama’s transition team and every member of Congress. Next, we will publish the first ever Congressional Briefing Book on medical cannabis, a comprehensive science-based look at medical cannabis and politically viable solutions to the need for safe access at the federal level. ASA staff will be talking to members of Congress in their offices, and bringing them expert testimony at oversight hearings and first-of-a-kind briefings on medical cannabis.

This is going to be a big year for medical cannabis in America. Help us keep pressure on our representatives to provide compassionate and reasonable leadership. If we can, this new American policy may signal and end to the conflict between state and federal law, and point to a future where patients all over the country have safe access to the medicine they need.

While I am so very excited today, I wish everyone on this journey were here to see it. Thank you to all those that impacted this fight and today I really wish I was sharing this victory with my dear friends and heroes Mike Alcalay, John Shaw, Virginia Reisner and Jane Weirick to name a few.

I toast you all, and may many Californians and patients everywhere sleep a little easier tonight because tomorrow the work begins!
-- Steph Sherer