CONTACT Marijuana's congressional champions - Dr. Christian Thurstone

Drug policy is a vital matter of public health and safety that should be rooted in evidence-based science, so pay close attention when elected officials with no formal training in drug-abuse prevention and treatment, medical research and law enforcement push legislation that blatantly rejects the warnings of hundreds of world experts in those fields. These elected officials’ actions are profoundly shaped by political winds, promises of continued influence and power, and pledges of money — lots and lots of money.

Try as they might, these politicians cannot say with a shred of credibility they are great defenders and guardians of public health and safety — especially child health and safety — and also lead efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Marijuana, which is the No. 1 reason adolescents are admitted to substance abuse treatment in the United States.

Which brings us to U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO 1 District), U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO 7th District) and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO 2nd District).

DeGette, Perlmutter and Polis have announced they’re working independently and together to introduce bills that would allow states to opt out of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. In other words, they’re working to support marijuana legalization not only in Colorado, but across the nation.

DeGette has filed her bill called, “The Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act.” It would allow states with legalized marijuana to be exempt from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. You can read the bill’s full text for yourself and still more about the bill from The Denver Post. One interesting thing about the timing of DeGette’s bill is how quickly she launched it after the Nov. 6 passage in Colorado of Amendment 64, a state constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for recreational use that is in direct violation of federal law. Old hands at public policy and the drafting of such bills know the language doesn’t materialize quickly (unless it’s written by the industry it’s intended to benefit). No, these bills typically take weeks, often months, to draft. DeGette repeatedly dodged questions about her stance on Amendment 64 — because she was up for re-election, after all. And her staff knew exactly what she was planning as they met with Colorado physicians, keeping up polite appearances in the face of warnings from world-recognized, drug-abuse-prevention experts about the impact marijuana legalization would have on children in Colorado and across the United States.

Let’s just say the awards proudly displayed around Rep. DeGette’s office for her commitment to child health and welfare are ringing hollow for a whole lot of Colorado doctors these days.

Still, the work now spinning out of the offices of DeGette, Perlmutter and Polis isn’t surprising. Polis practically has made marijuana legalization a part of his mission in life. DeGette and Perlmutter joined him in April to vote in favor of an unsuccessful bill that would have cut federal funding of law enforcement related to marijuana operations in medical marijuana states. That bill was HR 5326, titled, “The Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment.” An Arizona drug prevention group called Drug Free AZ generated a record of how each member of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on HR 5326. Check out the various states you’re interested in — and you’ll see very clearly where marijuana-legalization proponents have won House votes and are working to retain them. You can pretty much bet that the people who voted to defund federal law enforcement in medical marijuana states will be the same who rally around whatever handiwork comes from DeGette, Perlmutter and Polis.

Let’s be honest here in a way these Colorado lawmakers are not: many medical marijuana operations have profited from black-market sales and other illicit activities that states are ill-equipped to regulate and police. And these operations don’t affect only the states in which they’re located; they can affect entire regions, if not the nation. Colorado — whose legal and supposedly regulated medical marijuana has been found in at least 19 states — experienced a $5.7 million budget shortfall because it couldn’t cover the costs of regulating the drug’s sale and distribution.

As Californians for Drug Free Youth and Keep AZ Drug Free noted in May 2012:

Federal drug policy is determined and implemented by a network of federal agencies thoughtfully created to work in a coordinated fashion. The Food and Drug Administration is the agency that determines the safety and efficacy of all drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse researches and disseminates scientific information concerning prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction, which serves as the basis for national drug policy. The Office of National Drug Control Policy annually prepares the National Drug Control Strategy to reduce illicit drug use and expand substance abuse treatment. Other federal partners in the Strategy include the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Education and others. States rely upon the work of these agencies as well as others like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, to set policies and guidelines concerning drugs and their effects on communities and individuals. States do not have the knowledge, agencies or resources to perform those functions.”

Working to strip the federal government’s ability to protect the public health and safety not only of Coloradans, but of all Americans? And for an addictive substance that causes a wide range of health problems and is strongly associated with exorbitant social costs, including school dropout, traffic fatalities, teen pregnancy and workplace accidents?

This isn’t what responsible drug policy looks like. Responsible drug policy doesn’t merely respect states’ rights, or even popular votes. Responsible drug policy is national drug policy that is firmly rooted in the science of addiction and evidence-based approaches to drug-abuse prevention. Responsible drug policy also respects our nation’s relationships with other countries. Responsible drug policy is not drafted by — or for — the industries that profit from addiction.

About Christine Tatum

Christine Tatum is a veteran journalist whose communications and market intel firm, Media Salad, Inc., helps companies and nonprofit organizations win business and stay ahead of their competitors. Her professional stops include the Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, the (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald and the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record. Her work also has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and New York Times.

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