Federal marijuana decriminalization may come down to Georgia runoff

We met Elvy Musikka a few years ago near her home in South Florida, where she smokes 10 marijuana joints a day. 

The same federal government that bans marijuana for medical or recreational use sent Elvy drums filled with pot free of charge -- paid for by U.S. taxpayers. 

"Uncle Sam is my supplier," she explained.

We met Irvin Rosenfeld in Ft. Lauderdale. The federal government has been sending him taxpayer-funded marijuana for 38 years. 

"It says use marijuana cigarettes 10 times daily," he said, reading the prescription.

They enrolled in the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program during the Reagan administration. It offers government-grown marijuana for medical conditions for life. 

Elvy gets it for glaucoma; Irvin for his bone tumor condition. 

President George H.W. Bush cut off enrollment in this program in 1992, but the program continues to illustrate the contradictions in our federal drug policy: a government that grows and sends marijuana to some people with medical conditions also criminalizes marijuana and claims it has no acceptable medical use.  

"The epitome of hypocrisy and stupidity," Elvy offered.

Two Floridians get free marijuana for life -- from the feds

In 1978, the United States started the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program. It provides medicinal marijuana to people with serious health problems for life.

The U.S. House addressed those long-running contradictions a few weeks ago by passing a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, 228 to 164.

It defers policing or permitting it to the states as they see fit. 

"This does not mean marijuana would be legal in the entire United States," co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Lee explained. "It would simply remove the federal government from interfering with state laws and state structures from the business of prosecuting marijuana cases and would leave the legality to the individual states."

The legislation also sets a path for expunging federal marijuana convictions. 

"It can't be socially acceptable behavior in some neighborhoods, and criminal conduct in other neighborhoods when the dividing line is race," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries added.

President-elect Joe Biden has said marijuana policies should be determined and managed by the states. But the legislation would have to pass the Senate before reaching his desk. And since the Senate is not taking it up now, the House will have to pass it again in the new Congress and leave its fate to the Senate. 

It is likely to stall there, given Republican concerns that it could encourage more people to use marijuana, which could feed more accidents and more crime. 

But as with other big issues in 2021, this one may also depend on the two runoff Senate races in Georgia.