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Griffith’s bill would allow use of medicinal marijuana

Friday, May 2, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, has introduced a bill that potentially would allow doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana to patients.

The Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act (LUMMA) would prohibit the federal government from preventing the prescription, possession, transportation and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes that comply with state law, according to Griffith’s website.

Additionally, Griffith said, the bill would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule II controlled substance.

Under the federal Controlled Substance Act, marijuana currently is considered Schedule I, putting it in the same category as LSD, heroin and ecstasy.

However, Griffith said, if it were reclassified as Schedule II, it would be in the same class as opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Although those are potentially addictive and damaging drugs, he said, they regularly are prescribed by doctors to relieve pain for suffering patients.

“Nobody’s advocating those drugs be sold over the counter,” Griffith said.

Under the bill he proposed, doctors would be able to prescribe medicinal marijuana only to patients that it could legitimately help, such as those with cancer or glaucoma.

If a doctor were to abuse the prescriptions, or if a patient were obtaining marijuana through alternate channels, those acts would remain illegal, the same as with any other drug, Griffith said.

Griffith said that he opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana, which recently occurred in Colorado and Washington state. Even as a potential source of tax revenue, he said, “I believe the risk outweighs the reward. ... The risks are higher than people realize.”

Griffith isn’t sure the bill will pass, although he said that “I suspect if not this year, then in the next couple of years, something like my bill will pass.”

However, he said, the strong support for a recent amendment that would have allowed Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss the benefits of marijuana with their patients has given him some hope for the bill’s passage.

That amendment was defeated in the House in a 195-222 vote, he said.

Griffith was among those who voted against it.

The congressman said he opposed the amendment because he didn’t feel comfortable allowing doctors to advise veterans to commit what currently is a federal crime.

“Follow the law until you change it,” he said.

Griffith said that because marijuana currently is a Schedule I drug under federal law, it is difficult for its effects to be tested due to the massive amounts of red tape researchers first must navigate.

If LUMMA were to pass and marijuana was reclassified as a Schedule II drug, needed research could more easily be conducted. For example, he said, doctors could determine if anecdotal evidence of marijuana alleviating pain and helping epilepsy is factual.

However, Griffith said, his intent is not to decriminalize marijuana.

“It’s a pretty powerful substance,” he said. “It ought to be dealt with in a serious manner.”

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, said in a statement that “as a former prosecutor, I am — and have always been — adamantly opposed to the legalization of marijuana. With that said, I have only the highest regard for my colleague, Rep. Griffith, and I appreciate his thoughtful effort to help those legitimate patients suffering from debilitating pain. I look forward to studying his proposal as it makes its way through the legislative process.”


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