After success passing boiler bill, GOP Rep. Morgan Griffith looks at medical pot

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) has been prolific for a freshman, introducing five bills last year and seeing one of them overwhelmingly pass the House. But there is one issue he’d like to tackle that he is hesitant about: medical marijuana.

“Here’s the problem: Everybody hears medical marijuana and they think California — ‘Hey, if it makes you feel good, do it,’” Griffith said. “I don’t believe in that.”

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In Virginia, the medical marijuana law restricts its use to cancer and glaucoma patients, but doctors, due to fear of the Drug Enforcement Administration and a lack of marijuana dispensaries, rarely prescribe it.

“In my hometown, there was a young man who was dying, had a small child, wanted to stay alive as long as he could and spend as much time as he could with his child,” Griffith said. “The doctors actually gave an order in the local hospital that nobody would go in the room from 11 to 12. His friends would show up and smuggle marijuana [in] and then they’d show up with his lunch because he couldn’t eat without it — that’s crazy.

“When you have doctors putting orders down — saying don’t go into a hospital room because this patient needs something that I can’t give him — we’re messed up and the federal government is actually standing in the way.”

Griffith said the reason he hesitates to introduce federal legislation on the matter is because he’s not on the right committee.

“At this point, for me to introduce it as a first-term congressman who doesn’t sit on the right committee, it’s not going anywhere,” Griffith said. “I would prefer to lend an assist, but I have to weigh that out because I think it’s the right policy for the country. … There is no way that anybody will ever be able to convince me that we shouldn’t allow our respected medical community to use marijuana just as they use opiates and barbiturates.”

Griffith, who served as the first Republican majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates since Reconstruction, prefers the way the Virginia General Assembly does things because every bill there gets a vote on the floor. He finds the U.S. House practice of voice votes troubling because it has prohibited him from voting “no” on a couple of bills.

“I think there’s nothing wrong with having a few ‘no’ votes on bills, and I’m frustrated with the process,” Griffith said. “Sometimes I think there needs to be a cautionary ‘no’ vote.”

Griffith’s major success in Washington was his bill H.R. 2250, commonly called “Boiler MACT,” which  passed the House with 275 votes.

“No question that [H.R.] 2250, Boiler MACT, was the biggest accomplishment on the committee,” Griffith said of his work last year. “I think in part I got to carry that important piece of legislation because I like to study issues … It sounds crazy, but I love reading bills.”

Boiler MACT, also known as The EPA Regulatory Relief Act, aims to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate boilers. Republicans argued that the EPA rules would hurt boiler manufacturers across the country.

Griffith said he hopes the Senate takes up his bill this year, but he’s also optimistic about the prospects of another bill he’s introduced, H.R. 2036, The American Alternative Fuels Act.

“[It] basically gives credits for using alternative fuels but incorporates extra credits for certain types of things like coal purification. It allows the military to enter into a [procurement] contract for a longer period of time and also has an algae component to it,” said Griffith, who thinks he will get a hearing this year.

Griffith’s Southwest Virginia district is in the heart of coal country, and he believes coal is vital to the U.S. economy.

“I think there are people who want to put coal completely out of business,” Griffith said. “I think that would severely damage the American economy.”

Griffith, who is skeptical about “manmade global warming,” said if America doesn’t sell coal, other countries would.

“We’re not going to stop global warming by not using our coal. What we’re going to do is impoverish a large portion of the American society,” Griffith said. “And if it is in fact man-made global warming, we’re not going to have the money to do anything about it — the Chinese are going to have all the money, the Indians are going to have the money. We’re not going to have the money.”

Because air quality is a global issue, Griffith said, the United States might as well be the one selling the coal rather than other countries.

“It takes 10 days for the air to get from the middle of the Gobi Desert to the Eastern Shore of Virginia,” Griffith said. “So when we send our coal out to China, India, Kazakhstan — wherever they’re buying it — when we send it in the Northern Hemisphere to other countries to use to make the products that we used to make in the United States of America, they get the money and guess what happens  — we get the air pollution. 

“So we’re not solving anything by not working to find ways to use coal more effectively, more efficiently and cleaner.”