WASHINGTON – An unusual trio of lawmakers — one conservative Republican, one libertarian-leaning Republican, and one liberal Democrat — joined forces Wednesday to offer their support for legislation that would give states the option to distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes without intervention by the federal government.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who introduced the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act on Tuesday, said the bill would allow states that pass medical marijuana laws to be free from threat of a federal crackdown.
"Many elected officials are hesitant to support any proposals that might be viewed as weakening our drug laws," said Frank, flanked by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. "But I believe this is a common sense idea that will give some people who are suffering a measure of relief."
"We're talking about heartfelt, common-sense decisions," Rohrabacher said. "I think it is sinful not to do that."
Rohrabacher's home of California is one of nine states that have passed binding popular referenda allowing doctors to prescribe pot to alleviate painful symptoms experienced by patients suffering from critical illnesses like cancer, AIDS and glaucoma.
In response, the federal government, which outlawed marijuana in 1937, has in the last year stepped up raids on California facilities distributing marijuana to the terminally ill. Drug Enforcement Agency Director Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican representative from Arkansas, has publicly denounced the usefulness of medical marijuana and declared it very much a target of the nation's ongoing drug war.
That heavy-handed action by the Bush administration has earned the scorn of patients and their families who say they don't like being labeled criminal just because they are seeking some relief from extreme pain.
Among the opponents to criminalizing medicinal marijuana use is Lyn Nofziger, former public affairs deputy for former President Reagan and a conservative consultant.
Nofziger said that his own daughter tried a series of remedies to help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy required to treat cancer. Smoking marijuana helped her to regain her appetite, allowing her to gain much-needed weight, he said.
Though she died, she lived her last days in less pain, said Nofziger.
"Based on this, I've become an advocate of medical marijuana," he said. "It is truly compassionate. I sincerely hope the administration can get behind this bill."
But the bill, which moves marijuana from a Class I to a Class II substance, making it available by prescription according to state law, may not draw the support that sponsors hope.
"What has [Frank] been smoking?" asked fellow Judiciary Committee member Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, when questioned about the bill.
Frank said that while the bill has only Democratic co-sponsors, he thinks members from the other side of the aisle will support it strictly on principle.
"This bill does offer a challenge to conservatives who often profess their support for states' rights," Frank said.