Media@leap.cc Friday, December 18th, 2015
STATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWS PROTECTED, FEDERAL BAN ON SYRINGE EXCHANGE FUNDING RELAXED BY SPENDING BILL
President Obama Expected to Sign Bill Into Law
Washington D.C. – President Barack Obama is expected to sign a critical spending bill passed this morning by Congress that contains two significant drug policy provisions that will protect state’s rights, medical marijuana businesses and patients, and improve public health. Last year, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) cosponsored an amendment that prevents the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The amendment was approved on a temporary, one-year basis in the last spending bill and will be renewed pending the President’s signature.
The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment protects medical marijuana businesses that abide by state law from federal interference. Federal law still lists marijuana under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category supposedly relegated to drugs that have no medical value or applicable uses in medical settings and extremely high potential for abuse and addiction. Until the amendment was passed, federal enforcement agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were still able to shut down facilities despite state law. A federal judge in California upheld the amendment in October after the DEA brought a case against a medical marijuana business owner.
“Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. “It’s very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state’s rights and the rights of patients.”
In an incredible victory for public health, the bill undermines the decades-old ban on federal funding used for clean syringe programs. Federal dollars still won’t be permitted for purchasing syringes directly, but money can be used for everything else involved in the programs, including staff, if local public health agencies in consultation with the CDC agree that there is an HIV or hepatitis outbreak. In 1988 the government banned federal funds from being used to provide clean syringes to people who inject drugs. It was a common misconception at the time that providing basic harm reduction services, such as clean needles, enables people with addictions and will increase the number of people who use drugs. This myth has been debunked repeatedly (though the same argument continues to be made against the lifesaving opiate-overdose-reversal drug naloxone), and federal law now demonstrates a more significant effort to show basic compassion and improve the health of injecting drug users and the community at large. Countries that have robust needle exchange programs are greatly reducing the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
“Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity,” said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. “This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles.”
Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult-use of marijuana. Twenty-three states and D.C. allow some form of medical marijuana access. The United States has one of the lowest records of availability of clean syringe access in the developed world even though 203 programs operate in 34 states.
LEAP is committed to ending decades of failed policy that have created dangerous underground markets and gang violence, fostered corruption and racism, and largely ignored the public health crisis of addiction. The drug war has cost nearly $2 trillion dollars, yielded only disastrous outcomes, and has diverted valuable law enforcement resources away from more important crimes.
A link to the release online can be found here.