Bills To Protect Marijuana Patients & Providers Intro’d In Congress


Graphic: Students for Sensible Drug Policy

A bipartisan group of legislators introduced three bills in Congress on Wednesday which, for the first time in history, would federally protect and support medical marijuana patients and providers in states where the medicinal use of cannabis is legal.

The first of the bills, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act,” would modify federal law so that individuals acting in compliance with state law are immune from federal prosecution. The other two bills, which address banking and tax issues faced by medical marijuana providers, are the first two bills in the history of Congress to protect and advance the interests of medical cannabis businesses.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) is the lead sponsor of the States bill, which has garnered bipartisan support in past sessions of Congress.

Photo: Dallas Voice
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) is lead sponsor of the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act of 2011

​The industry bills were introduced with bipartisan sponsors. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) are the lead sponsors of the “Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011,” which would amend Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code so that medical marijuana providers can take standard business expense deductions like any other business.
The “Small Business Banking Act of 2011,” sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), would allow financial institutions to work with medical marijuana businesses without the fear of running afoul of federal banking regulations.
The introduction of the bills follows months of advocacy by the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).
The bills have been introduced at a time when the nation is witnessing a strange reaction by U.S. Attorneys to the development of state-regulated systems of medical marijuana distribution.
In October 2009, the Department of Justice issued a memo to federal prosecutors, instructing them to de-prioritize the prosecution of individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. This has given states like New Mexico, Colorado and Maine the ability to establish tightly regulated systems.
​Yet, some U.S. Attorneys, faced with the prospect of sensible regulations being established in other states, have issued misleading and threatening letters to sidetrack legislative and administrative progress.

Photo: Drug Policy Alliance
Tamar Todd, DPA: “It is beyond question that states want to and have the right to legalize medical marijuana under state law”

​”The Department of Justice’s new policy is forcing the public and patients to deal with a chaotic, unregulated medical marijuana market,” said Tamar Todd, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It is beyond question that states want to and have the right to legalize medical marijuana under state law.”
“The question now is whether states should be able to implement medical marijuana programs consistent with the needs of patients and of public safety and health,” Todd said. “The legislation introduced today would allow states to implement reasonable, responsible regulations.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in this country who benefit when they are able to purchase their medicine from safe, reliable and regulated establishments,” said Steve Fox, NCIA’s director of public affairs. “It is time for the federal government to acknowledge that these businesses are providing a service to their communities, not causing them harm.”

Photo: NCIA
Steve Fox, NCIA: “It is time for the federal government to acknowledge that these businesses are providing a service to their communities, not causing them harm”

​”Without these regulated, tax-paying businesses, all medical marijuana sales would occur underground,” Fox said. “The profits would bolster the criminal market and local, state and federal governments would receive no tax revenue. These medical marijuana providers are not looking for special treatment. They just want to be able to function in a manner similar to any other legal business. That is what these tax and banking bills would allow.”
​”We are pleased that this bipartisan group of legislators has come together on behalf of patients and their providers at this important time,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “There is clear evidence that statewide systems of medical marijuana regulations can be extremely effective in controlling the distribution of the medicine and serving the needs of patients.”
“The U.S. Attorneys should heed the advice of Rep. Frank implicit in the introduction of this bill,” Kampia said. “That is, it is time for the federal government to get out of the way and let states enact and carry out the policies they believe will be best for the patients and citizens of their states.”

Photo: NORML Stash
Rob Kampia, MPP: “It is time for the federal government to get out of the way”

​”That includes allowing those involved in distributing marijuana to patients within the confines of state law to operate like any other legitimate business,” Kampia said.
According to Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, the legislation sends a clear signal to U.S. Attorneys, the Department of Justice, and the DEA to stop trying to undermine state laws designed to provide cancer and AIDS patient
s and others who use medical marijuana with safe and legal access to their medicine.
“The Justice Department thinks it can bully not just state elected officials but also patients and those who provide for them,” Piper said. “Members of Congress need to stand up for patients and the will of the American people and push back against this federal overreach.”
Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical marijuana, and many more states and considering legislation to permit similar programs.