Why is Medical Marijuana Finally Becoming an American Policy?


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

One is that over the years, despite the fear created by Bush’s outdated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

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



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