Sunday, June 25, 2006

Presbyterians Call for Medical Marijuana

The Presbyterian Church (USA) on Wednesday (June 21) became the seventh major religious organization in the nation to support the use of medical marijuana.

The consensus vote of the church's General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., comes as the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up the issue next week.

In explaining its reasoning for the policy shift, a church committee wrote that marijuana may alleviate the pain that some patients who are confined to "ineffective" prescription drugs are forced to endure.

"Medical marijuana is an issue of mercy," said the Rev. Lynn Bledsoe, a Presbyterian minister in Alabama. "It is unconscionable that seriously ill patients can be arrested for making an earnest attempt at healing by using medical marijuana with their doctors' approval."

Eleven states have passed laws allowing medical uses of marijuana following a doctor's prescription, but federal law enforcement officials can arrest people in those states.

A proposal by Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., that will be considered next week would prohibit the federal government from using any of its budget money to pursue medical marijuana users who comply with their state laws and doctors' orders.

Similar amendments, including another by Rohrabacher and Hinchey, were defeated twice in the last two years, and a separate bill died in a House committee in 2005.

But Hinchey's chief of staff, Wendy Darwell, is optimistic that the amendment will fare better this year.

"There has been at least one other state that has expanded its own medical marijuana rules," Darwell said. With the growing number of states with provisions for medical marijuana, "that should only draw the support of more members of Congress who represent those states."

In 1982, the Episcopal Church became the first to endorse the use of medical marijuana, according to the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, a Washington-based advocacy group. In more recent years, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the Unitarian Universalist Association have announced similar support.


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