Feb. 27, 2015
Congress needs to back off and respect the wishes of D.C. residents to legalize marijuana.
Earlier this week, adult possession and use of marijuana became legal in the District of Columbia. There were no parties in the street or any kind of public consumption of marijuana. No one was hurt or arrested. No one got sick or died (at least not from marijuana consumption). The sky did not fall. One might not have noticed at all, had not members of Congress from far-off jurisdictions threatened to jail our mayor and council and bully the residents of the nation’s capital into submission to their will.
Congress is doing its best to prevent D.C. from legalizing marijuana. As Yogi Berra might have said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” In 1998, the citizens of the District voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. When Congress attempted and failed to halt that election, it blocked the counting of ballots. Once a judged ruled that the vote could be certified, Congress deployed the same tactics on display today to keep medical marijuana out of the hands of patients for 15 years. Finally, in 2013, D.C.’s medical-marijuana dispensaries opened. My family and I own and operate one of them, Takoma Wellness Center.
D.C.’s medical-marijuana law was blocked for 15 years. During that time, while Congress played politics with the lives of the citizens of the District of Columbia, tens of thousands of people suffered. Over that decade and a half, many of those people died.
For nearly 30 years, I served as a congregational rabbi. My rabbinate began in June of 1981, on the same day the first case of AIDS was reported in the press. The beginning of my career coincided with the beginning of AIDS taking its heavy toll on humanity.
As a very liberal rabbi in a very conservative town, where stigma and acceptance became large HIV/AIDS issues, I found myself one of the few local clergy to work in support of people living with HIV and AIDS. I spoke at many meetings, visited many in the hospital, officiated at many funerals. There were years when hardly a day went by without AIDS issues on the agenda.
Those years were before the first pharmaceutical drug was introduced to help manage the symptoms of AIDS. During those days, marijuana provided the best-known relief. Marijuana stimulated the appetites of those who could not eat. Marijuana soothed the pain of those who suffered. Marijuana brought sleep to those who could not slumber. Marijuana eased the minds of those who faced stigma and death. I know. I saw it with my own eyes.
My family and I had a very close and personal experience with marijuana as medicine. My late father-in-law Jules Reifkind had multiple sclerosis for more than 50 years. Of the many, many treatments he tried to help live with that condition, the one that really helped was marijuana.