Friday, June 13, 2014

Interview with Morgan Griffith about medicinal marijuana

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA9)
Although he voted against a budget amendment designed to circumscribe federal interference in the production and distribution of medical marijuana in states that have legalized it, U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA9) has introduced his own legislation to address implications for federalism and individual liberty by reforming the nation's drug laws.

Griffith's bill, the “Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act” or the “LUMMA,” would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana for various ailments and provide for experimentation and research by universities and pharmaceutical companies. Prescription of cannabis is currently prohibited under federal law and research is severely limited.

Congressman Griffith explained the aims of his bill in an interview with me on the sidelines of the Republican Party of Virginia's state convention in Roanoke on June 7.

Most of the states that have legalized medicinal marijuana “haven't adopted a policy that I would advocate,” Griffith said. “That is a policy that says that you have doctors involved with a prescription, not just a note that says it might be good for you but a prescription so that we can actually see what we're doing.”

Griffith's bill “would also allow for universities and pharmaceutical companies and whomever to start doing experiments with the levels of the THC,” he explained, “because one of the problems you have is, even where people want to use it for medical reasons, whether it be epilepsy or glaucoma and cancer – which is authorized [by law] in Virginia – we don't really know what the right mix of THC and cannabinoid oils are to make the most effective for particular patients.”

Currently, he continued, “because it's a Schedule One drug and the DEA won't reduce it to Schedule Two, you really can't get the research that you need to use it for real medicinal purposes.”

Griffith was critical of the way medical marijuana is regulated in those states where it's legal.

“A lot of the states have a loosey-goosey plan,” he said.

“What we need is to have marijuana treated like any other serious drug, like we treat hydrocodone, like we treat barbiturates, like we treat morphine – treat it seriously, [because] it's a serious medication.”

Once the law treats it that way, he said, then the federal government should “step back and let the states decide whether their doctors can make the prescription. Right now they can't because it's against the federal law and you lose your DEA license to prescribe any drug if you do it.”

Now there are “22 states where the federal government looks the other way and doesn't enforce the law [while] we have a federal law that actually makes it a felony for a hospital or a doctor to actually use it in any kind of an efficacious way.”

Under the terms of Griffith's bill, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would reschedule marijuana from Schedule One to Schedule Two. “Some would argue it ought to be Schedule Three, or maybe even lower but Schedule Two gets us the research and allows doctors to use it,” he explained.

While Dana Rohrabacher's amendment to a budget bill last month would have ended DEA and Department of Justice interference in states with legal medical marijuana, that approach does not go far enough for Griffith.

“I think a lot of folks feel that voting for these budget amendments is solving the problem,” he said, adding that it “actually makes the problem more complex because then you have a patchwork set of rules across the nation and it's still a violation of federal law.”

As a result, “whenever a new president comes in, they say to the DEA, 'Go get those people, they're in violation of federal law.' I don't want to do that. I want there to be a respect for the law but let's get the law right.”

The right way to reform the law, he explained, is to “have our doctors, our trained medical professionals, prescribing it, and have our universities and our pharmaceutical companies testing it to get the dosage right.”

Griffith's bill, designated HR 4498, currently has two cosponsors: Rep. James Moran (D-VA8) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA47). It has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Michigan Republican Fred Upton, where it awaits action.

Reason magazine this month posted two informative articles about legalize marijuana. In "Weed Isn't All That Scary," syndicated columnist Steve Chapman reports on his experience visiting legal pot shops in Colorado. Elizabeth Nolan Brown published "FAQ: All About Legal Pot," to answer readers' burning questions.

(This article appeared in slightly different form on

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