Earlier this week, while more than 200 citizen lobbyists were meeting face-to-face with their Congressional legislators in Washington, D.C. to change federal policy on medical cannabis, a series of events occurred in Florida, making that state the next political battleground on this issue.
On Monday, a Miami Herald article cited a recent poll indicating 81 percent of Florida voters said approve of doctors recommending cannabis to patients, with only 14 percent opposed. As many as 70 percent of voters said they supported a state constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis, a full 10 points higher than what Florida requires to pass such amendments.
Then, tragically, later that afternoon, the home of Americans for Safe Access member and Sarasota resident Cathy Jordan and her 64-year-old husband Robert was raided by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department. With black ski masks and guns drawn in an intimidating fashion that has become all-too familiar for medical cannabis patients across the country, sheriff’s deputies came into their home and seized all 23 of Cathy’s plants, which she uses to treat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”), a terminal illness.
Cathy was diagnosed in 1986 with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to loss of limb control, breathing, swallowing, and speech. However, after trying cannabis in 1989, she was able to better manage her symptoms and significantly improve her quality of life. Now, more than 20 years later, Cathy has outlived five of her support groups and four of her neurologists.
As you can see from her medical history and the positive impact that cannabis has had on her life, Cathy is a shining example of why public policy must be changed, not only in Florida but at the federal level as well. Therefore, it was no surprise (except maybe to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department) that she was chosen as the lead spokesperson for SB1250, the “Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act,” a Florida bill introduced the very next day by State Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Lake worth).
And, if SB1250 fails to get the necessary votes for passage, there is another effort afoot by People United for Medical Marijuana to put an initiative on the 2014 ballot in Florida that would amend the state constitution in order to protect patients from exactly the type of raid that Cathy and her husband had to endure.
This type of aggressive enforcement effort is not unique to Cathy or to other patients in Florida. It happens virtually every day across America, even in states that have adopted medical cannabis laws. One of the main reasons for this is an outdated policy at the federal level. For decades now, the federal government has refused to recognize the medical efficacy of cannabis, maintaining the position that it is a dangerous drug with no medical value. In July 2011, the Obama Administration denied a 9-year-old petition filed by ASA and other groups aimed at reclassifying cannabis for medical use, in an effort to overturn the federal government’s draconian policy. This bittersweet denial, however, gave ASA the opportunity to bring the issue of medical cannabis into the federal courts by appealing the denial to the D.C. Circuit. Cathy Jordan was one of the lead plaintiffs in this appeal, ASA v. DEA. Unfortunately, last month, the D.C. Circuit sided with the government’s position, denying our appeal and refusing to usher in a new compassionate policy toward patients.
However, advocates are not giving up and the medical cannabis patient community is now more ardent than ever. ASA will soon be filing for En Banc review of the appeal with the full D.C. Circuit, but advocates are not putting all of their eggs in the federal court basket. With last week’s introduction of two Congressional bills, HR689, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act,” and HR710, the “Truth in Trials Act,” advocates are hard at work convincing their members of Congress that federal policy must be changed. Indeed, it was the support for these bills that brought more than 250 people to Washington, D.C. this past weekend for the ASA-hosted, first-ever national medical cannabis conference in Washington, D.C. More than half of the conference participants took to Capitol Hill Monday to show that they’re a force to be reckoned with.
Given the historical and widespread support for medical cannabis in the U.S., consistently polling at up to 80 percent, Congress has been woefully out of step with their constituents on this issue. Yet, that’s about to change. It has to change, unless we want to be known as a society that favors attacking our most vulnerable citizens for using a medication that improves — and, in many cases, extends — their lives. I know we’re better than that. We just have to show Congress that there will be consequences for ignoring the will of the people and the plight of patients.