Medical marijuana is increasingly becoming the treatment of choice for many chronic back pain patients. Cannabis is much safer than conventional treatment therapies such as over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications – NSAIDS – (such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or aspirin) can be helpful but can cause side effects such as stomach upset, nausea, gastric bleeding, and ulcers.
Despite the strong voter support and health advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana, the Congress still holds the power to decide if states will be able to legalize the drug. Many Americans do not feel that this is fair, however, the Congress can prohibit the drug’s legalization according to the United States Constitution, the U.S. House of Representative and Supreme Court votes, and the Controlled Substance Act.
Medical marijuana use has proven to be effective in many patients suffering terminal and painful diseases. People who undergo pain from illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and epilepsy have found medicinal marijuana extremely helpful in the treatment of their symptoms. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, during the year 1999, the most comprehensive study of medical marijuana’s effectiveness to date by the Institute of Medicine, concluded, “Nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety…all can be mitigated by marijuana.” This statement opened the doors for many people in over 26 states to support the legalization of the drug. However, despite the strong support for the legalization, Congress still holds firm that they will not allow the legalization without their approval, regardless of the majority of Americans who have voted to legalize the drug.
In July of 1787, five members of the Committee of Detail began arranging and preparing the United States Constitution. This Committee was in favor of allowing the United States Constitution to have “essential principles only; lest the operations of government should be clogged by rendering those provisions permanent and unalterable which ought to be accommodated to times and events.”
During their task they were able to enumerate 18 powers for Congress, the 18th power being the “Elastic Clause.” This clause gave Congress the complete authority “to make all laws that shall be necessary for carrying into execution the foregoing powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States.” The Committee decided that along with the decision to enforce the “Elastic Clause” they would also implement the “Supremacy Clause”.
According to article VI, Paragraph 2 of the United States Constitution the “Supremacy Clause” states, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
This portion of the United State Constitution solidifies the fact that everyone must follow the federal law even if it conflicts with state law. Valid state laws or court orders cannot override the federal law because the United States Constitution clearly states that federal law is supreme to anything in the Constitution or laws from any state to the contrary notwithstanding. These two clauses make it nearly impossible for a state to legalize medical marijuana without authority from the U.S. Congress.
June 14, 2005 lawmakers of the House of Representatives voted 161-264 against a law stating that the federal government could not prosecute patients who use medical marijuana under a physician’s orders in states that allow the practice. The Congress could have had the opportunity to prohibit the Justice Department from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws, however, the 161 votes for the bill did not pass even though it was the most votes that had ever been received during the past three years that the amendment has been offered. This vote came one week after a 6-3 ruling by the Supreme Court that the federal government can still enforce national anti-drug laws in the states that allow medical marijuana uses. This decision ultimately gave Congress the right to regulate and decide about medical marijuana use regardless of state laws.
Many people have opposing views on the Supreme Court and House of Representatives’ decisions; however, their arguments have not won. Several of the lawmakers believed that allowing states to set their own medication policy would undermine the Food and Drug Administration, which has the responsibility of approving new drugs and monitoring their safety.
These federal laws continue to be in effect regardless of the 99% of arrests made from marijuana use at the state and local levels. The current states that successfully remove state-level criminal penalties for growing and or possessing medical marijuana include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The most recent passing of a medical marijuana bill would be the state of Rhode Island. In 1998, District of Columbia voters were 69% in favor of approving a medical marijuana initiative, however, the Congress was able to void the results because the District of Columbia is a federal district and not a state.
The use of medical marijuana is considered one of the most supported social issues in the drug policy reform. According to a 1999 Gallop poll, 73% of Americans were in favor of marijuana being legal if prescribed by a doctor to reduce pain and suffering associated with severe illnesses; and in a 2004 poll arranged by AARP, 72% of Americans ages 45 and older were in favor of marijuana being legalized for medicinal purposes. However, Congress refuses to give up their power to decide what laws can be effective.
The Controlled Substance Act is another way that the federal government fights drug abuse. According to The Controlled Substances Act, Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, “The law is a consolidation of numerous laws regulating the manufacture and distribution of narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, and chemicals used in the illicit production of controlled substances.”
This act makes it very clear that Congress must control and distribute any and all drugs in the best interest of the public. Marijuana is considered to be a Schedule I substance, which is defined as having a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value. However, scientific research contradicts this statement due to the fact that marijuana has been proven to have positive medicinal effects on patients. There have been many petitions in favor of rescheduling marijuana submitted to the Food and Drug Administration over the last 30 years. However, the most recent petition submitted in 2002, by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, still hasn’t received any responses from the administration.
So, does Congress have the authority to prevent states from legalizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes? The answer is yes. The United States Constitution clearly states that the Congress has the right to override anything in the U.S. Constitution or from any state. The Supreme Court and House of Representatives final votes as well as the Federal laws that back them up solidify their rights to do so. Should America continue to fight against these prohibitions? Yes! Americans should. If the American people continue to stand up for what they believe in and continue to fight for those who need medicinal marijuana the most, there is no limit to what the future of medicine can achieve.