In 1999, the Institute of Medicine, an independent arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report that irrefutably supports the efficacy of medical cannabis as a therapeutic agent. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies not only disregard the scientific findings, but also enact policies that criminalize and marginalize people who use medical cannabis for peripheral neuropathy, nausea, glaucoma, anxiety and a host of other symptoms.
The U.S. government disregards its own scientific findings about a plant that’s been used medicinally for millennia, misclassifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug that has no therapeutic value and further chooses to imprison patients who use cannabis for relief from the symptoms of chronic illness. And our tax dollars fund this opprobrium. Yep, that’s right. The oppressed actually fund the oppressors. Ridiculous, right?
In 2007, Americans for Safe Access, the country’s largest advocacy group for medical cannabis patients, and the National Association of People With AIDS, conducted an informal survey of more than 450 HIV-positive people. Over 45 percent of survey respondents indicated that they use medical cannabis on a regular basis to address symptoms associated with the virus and HIV treatment.
If the trend is accurate, that means over 540,000 HIV-positive patients need regular access to their medicine to assist them in managing their pain, weight, nausea, anxiety and depression. Half a million tax-paying U.S. citizens are in jeopardy of being incarcerated because they are doing their best to manage their disease. Now imagine the number of people living with cancer, multiple sclerosis or chronic pain. We are a multi-million-member movement fighting for patients rights. And, tragically, many are literally dying for access to their medication.
As an American, I refuse to be characterized as an outlaw for my therapeutic use of cannabis and am incensed that my tax dollars directly fund federal agencies that disregard scientific proof that cannabis is medicine.
As an HIV advocate, I am incensed that so many HIV-positive people who benefit from medical cannabis must do so at risk of incarceration, loss of housing, loss of employment, ineligibility for federal programs, etc.
As an HIV-positive medical cannabis patient, I personally attest to my right to attain the best possible quality of life through using medical cannabis and to fight the tyranny of ignorance that allows politics to prevail over sound public health.
As a board member of Americans for Safe Access, I ask you to join us and use your voice at the first National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, DC, from February 22 to 25.
Recently, more than a dozen members of Congress introduced legislation that would reclassify cannabis for medical use and provide federal defendants the right to use state law compliance as evidence in medical cannabis trials, a right they're currently denied.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D–Ore.) authored H.R. 689, the "States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act," which calls for the rescheduling of cannabis and will allow states to establish their own public health laws without undue interference by the federal government. H.R. 689 will also remove current obstacles to cannabis research in the United States, which places us far behind other countries in assessing the full therapeutic benefits of cannabis. Rep. Sam Farr (D–Calif.) authored H.R. 710, the "Truth in Trials Act," which seeks to overturn the prohibition on medical marijuana evidence in federal court.
Both bills were introduced in anticipation of the National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference, during which hundreds of advocates will meet with their congressional representatives to urge passage of these important bills.
Congress has a unique opportunity to establish a sensible public health policy for medical cannabis, and to do what the Obama administration has been afraid or unwilling to do. With our collective strength, patient advocates can push Congress to take heed of the scientific evidence on cannabis, and to act in accordance with the overwhelming popular support this issue deservedly receives.
Even if you don’t join us in DC, you can still contact your member of Congress to let him or her know that science, truth and compassion must triumph over politics. We’ve made great strides and have achieved great progress, but we need you to join us in shaping and enacting effective, compassionate public health policies.
Tom Kujawski is an active board member of Americans for Safe Access and an HIV-positive medical marijuana patient who has spent the last 25 years advancing effective public health and HIV/AIDS policy through his affiliations with groups like the National Association of People with AIDS.