The issue before Congress is whether to continue the federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients and their providers, in accordance with the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), or whether to relax federal marijuana prohibition enough to permit the medicinal use of botanical cannabis products when recommended by a physician, especially where permitted under state law.
Bills that would make medical marijuana available under federal law for medical use in the states with medical marijuana programs and that would make it possible for defendants in federal court to reveal to juries that their marijuana activity was medically related and legal under state law have been introduced in recent Congresses and are likely to be reintroduced in the 111th Congress. Past proposals to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the CSA might also resurface in the current Congress.
The Obama Administration’s Attorney General has signaled an end to federal raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration of medical marijuana dispensaries that are operating in accordance with state laws, in fulfillment of a pledge to end such actions that was made by candidate Obama during the presidential campaign.
Thirteen states, mostly in the West, have enacted laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and many thousands of patients are seeking relief from a variety of serious illnesses by smoking marijuana or using other herbal cannabis preparations. Meanwhile, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration refuses to recognize these state laws and continues to investigate and arrest, under federal statute, medical marijuana providers and users in those states and elsewhere.
Claims and counterclaims about medical marijuana—much debated by journalists and academics, policymakers at all levels of government, and interested citizens—include the following: Marijuana is harmful and has no medical value; marijuana effectively treats the symptoms of certain diseases; smoking is an improper route of drug administration; marijuana should be rescheduled to permit medical use; state medical marijuana laws send the wrong message and lead to increased illicit drug use; the medical marijuana movement undermines the war on drugs; patients should not be arrested for using medical marijuana; the federal government should allow the states to experiment and should not interfere with state medical marijuana programs; medical marijuana laws harm the federal drug approval process; the medical cannabis movement is a cynical ploy to legalize marijuana and other drugs. With strong opinions being expressed on all sides of this complex issue, the debate over medical marijuana does not appear to be approaching resolution.
This report will be updated as legislative activity and other developments occur.