Congress should halt Trump's plan to upend states' medical marijuana laws

Congress should halt Trump's plan to upend states' medical marijuana laws
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President  Trump is once again threatening to derail medical cannabis access in the majority of U.S. states that regulate its access and use. 

In his recently released 2021 federal budget proposal, the president has called for ending existing federal protections that limit the federal government from interfering in the state-sanctioned regulation of medical cannabis. Doing so would place thousands of medical cannabis providers and the millions of patients who rely on them at risk for criminal prosecution. 

Some context: since 2014, Congress has repeatedly approved spending legislation forbidding the Justice Department from using federal funds for the explicit purpose of preventing states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” 

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Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia regulate the production and dispensing of medical cannabis products to over three million patients. All of these programs, and the patients served by them, would be at risk if the president gets his way.

To those following this issue closely, the president ’s latest move hardly comes as a surprise. Despite Trump mentioning during his campaign that he supported medical marijuana and a general states-rights approach to cannabis policy, his presidency has consistently proven these words to ring hollow.

Most recently, Marc Lotter, the director of strategic communications for Trump’s 2020 campaign, stated in an interview that the administration is intent on keeping marijuana illegal under federal law. “I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” he said. “They need to be kept illegal, that is the federal policy. I think the president has been pretty clear on his views on marijuana at the federal level, I know many states have taken a different path.”

Let’s be clear — the policy that the administration wants to keep in place is the same failed policy that has existed since 1970, which opines that the cannabis plant should remain classified in the same category as heroin and possesses no accepted medical value. This position doesn’t comport with either public opinion or scientific reality

The data speaks for itself. It is not an alternative fact that state-regulated medical marijuana has been proven to possess important benefits to millions of patients while not undermining public safety or health.

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To date, these regulatory programs are operating largely as voters and politicians intended. The enactment of these policies has not negatively impacted workplace safety, crime rates, traffic safety, or youth use patterns. Additionally, they have stimulated economic development and created hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue. That is why more and more states are enacting medical cannabis laws while existing states are continually expanding them. No state that has passed a medical cannabis access law has ever repealed it.

Americans almost universally know that patients are not criminals and that marijuana indisputably has medical value in the treatment of a wide range of ailments. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found an eye-popping 94 percent of Americans support the legal use of medical cannabis. 

It makes no political sense for the president to try and put this genie back in the bottle and it up to Congress to see that he does not.

Justin Strekal is the Political Director for NORML, where he serves as an advocate to end the federal prohibition of marijuana and to reform our nation's laws to no longer discriminate against its consumers.