Rep Morgan Griffith

Rep. Griffith’s bill would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, which is the same as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone

A conservative southern Republican congressman has begun a pushing to change federal law prohibiting the use of medical marijuana. On Tuesday Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Virginia) introduced HR 4498 the ‘Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act’ (LUMMA).

As a Republican from a state without a functioning medical marijuana program Griffith is an unusual advocate on this issue.  What motivated Griffith to begin push for federal change, though, was personal experience. Years ago Griffith knew someone suffering from cancer who was helped significantly by medical marijuana — but only because the hospital was  willing to turn a blind eye to this treatment. When Griffith heard about a constituent in a nearly identical situation he decided need to step up.

The bill would move marijuana from Schedule I, where it is defined as having no accepted medical value, to Schedule II, which is the same as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone. It would also allow medical marijuana to be used and produced at a state level for authorized patients with a prescription.

When I spoke to Griffith he stressed that what separates his bill from some other proposals in Congress is that his would require actual prescriptions to obtain medical marijuana instead of mere recommendations. Since marijuana is still Schedule I, doctors aren’t actually allowed to  prescribe it. To get around this federal hurdle current medical marijuana states had to jury rig systems that require only doctor recommendations.

What Griffith wants is for medical marijuana to be treated much like other legal prescription medications. He makes it clear this is not about recreational use but ending a “mean” set of restrictions that stops patients from accessing a legitimate treatment.

If the bill is adopted it should potentially bring relief to people suffering in his home state. Since 1979 Virginia has technically had a law on the books that would allow prescription marijuana for the treatment of cancer and glaucoma, but it hasn’t help anyone so far since the federal government still won’t allow doctors to actually prescribe it.

Griffith is not overly optimistic about success this year but he feels the current rules are “cruel,” so he is going to actively work toward eventual change.

Hopefully, the willingness of Griffith to speak out on the issue will make other members of Congress from both parties finally realize there is no political downside in supporting medical marijuana. It has overwhelmingly support among both parties and all age groups with polls showing 86 percent of Americans support allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical use.

The Obama administration actually has the power to reschedule marijuana without Congress, but so far they refuse to do for political reason.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy