Medical Marijuana Advocates Say Federal Action Is Necessary

Photo Credit: Brookings Institute

The patchwork of states that have legalized medical marijuana — now 29 and Washington D.C. — still leaves patients facing difficult decisions, like legal action or the threat arrest.

That’s why medical marijuana advocates believe that federal action is ultimately necessary, given the gaps in legality and the need to cross state lines.

This was one of the issues at a Brookings Institute and Variety-sponsored screening of “The Life She Deserves: Medical Marijuana in the United States,” followed by a panel. The project is Brookings’ first foray into documentary filmmaking, this time by personalizing an issue that otherwise would have been explained via a study or white paper.

The movie, directed by George Burroughs and John Hudak, looks at the case of Jennifer Collins, a Virginia teenager whose family struggled to find some kind of treatment for her epileptic seizures. Pharmaceuticals proved to have debilitating side effects and be of limited effectiveness, until Collins’ family found significant progress with the use of a liquid form of marijuana.

“This story is so similar to so many different people,” Collins said at the event. “I feel like I need to share it for the others [as much as] I can.”

For a time, she and her mother, Beth Collins, moved to Colorado, where such use was permitted, to get access to the medication, but fought to return to their home in Virginia by becoming activists in the legalization campaign.

Virginia’s General Assembly approved the use of cannabis oil for medical purposes, and Beth Collins said that one of the keys to changing minds was telling their personal stories.

“We met with the most difficult legislators that we could, first, because we knew if we could change their mind, the others would follow. The same is true federally,” she said. “You just have to keep going in with your story. Our story is not just our story. It is thousands and thousands of stories and you have to keep telling them.”

Problems remain, however. Jennifer Collins is about to graduate from high school, but said that she has found difficulty in finding a college or university that has accepted the use of medical cannabis.

Hudak said that even though the “changes in stigma have been dramatic,” and support for policy reform is “highly addictive right now in the United States Congress,” the movement for change on Capitol Hill is “probably not there yet.”

“A lot of people are standing in the way,” he said. “These gatekeepers are doing a damn good job making sure that the war on drugs continues.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he said, is “one of the biggest enemies to cannabis reform in the United States.”

Hudak attributes this in part to their generation. Even though there is overwhelming support for medical marijuana, the view that some lawmakers will pay a political price for legalization “never goes away for some members.”

Burroughs said that is why “I think we are going to have to do it in the states first, because that is where the pressure is going to come, through representatives.”

Voters in Missouri and Utah are likely to vote on ballot initiatives this November, Hudak said.

Even with more states moving to legalize marijuana, questions will remain over issues like interstate commerce.

“The more stories that are told, I think that members of Congress are waking up to the realities that this is much more complex than a hands off, state’s rights issue, that a federal solution is absolutely necessary,” he said.

The panel discussion is here, and the complete movie is below.