Reclassifying Marijuana

Sep 29, 2015

Credit AP File Photo/Ted S. Warren

It’s rare these days for Republicans and Democrats in Congress to agree on anything, so it may come as a surprise to learn there is bi-partisan support for a bill to reclassify marijuana.  

Morgan Griffith is one of the more conservative Republicans representing Virginia in Congress. But he’s pushing a bill to reclassify marijuana so the government and universities can study it. For Griffith the issue became personal when the daughter of a constituent suffered from Epilepsy until she moved to Colorado where Marijuana is legal.  

“When you see a young lady who was having something like 300 seizures a day, and she’s only having one now, if she were my child, I’d take that gamble too.”

The federal government calls marijuana a schedule one drug, which – by definition -- has no medicinal value.  Because of that classification, it’s extremely difficult for scientists to study cannabis – to test its value in treating medical problems, so Griffith is teaming up with one of the more liberal members of the House to change the classification. Earl Blumenauer is a Democrat from Oregon, which has legalized pot.  He’s one of the louder voices in Congress calling for relaxed federal marijuana laws.

“There are over a million people in this country right now who have legal access to medical Marijuana. What’s in it? We don’t have the protocols that we have for pharmaceuticals, so you don’t have the standardization.”

Blumenauer and Griffith had similar concerns over the prohibition on even testing weed, so they combined their powers on this new bill. Republican Andy Harris of Maryland is a medical doctor who is one of the biggest opponents of marijuana in Congress. He’s also co-sponsoring the effort, which Griffith says is a good thing.

“Two people who disagreed on some parts of it but agree that they ought to do the research. He believes it will be very limited. I believe it will be a little bit broader. But I want to know.”

Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Rigell likes the approach they’re taking.  

“I want to be a data driven, fact driven office and so let’s put the drug, this particular drug, in this case Marijuana under the microscope literally and test and see if these claims are really true.”

Rigell says if the science says marijuana can help people, then he’s open to it.

Those who are suffering from incurable cancer or glaucoma or something like that, if a drug has some potential to help a fellow human being then I think we ought to pursue it until we’re convinced that either it does or does not have beneficial use.”

Still Congressman Griffith wants you to know he isn’t pushing legalization of marijuana, but he says the outright ban on weed for any medical reason is nonsensical.  

“If you can use heroin derivatives, the opiates, and barbiturates for legitimate medical reasons, why can’t you use marijuana for legitimate medical reasons?”  

The congressional schedule is packed these days, and Republican leaders don't want to devote time to debating pot. That's why this bipartisan group is hoping they can include their language in a broader, must pass bill this fall.