WASHINGTON — Legal marijuana is spreading like a weed across the land but it has yet to take root in the place where people might benefit most from inhaling: the U.S. Capitol.
The Maryland General Assembly finished work Monday on a marijuana decriminalization bill, joining two dozen other states and the District in some form of legalization. Colorado and Washington allow recreational pot, while most others have legalized only medical marijuana, but the combined campaign has redefined the meaning of a grass-roots movement.
Still, federal law hasn't budged, and a bill sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., that would recognize the medical value of marijuana has languished for a year; it has only 23 co-sponsors and no chance of passing. On Monday, when members of the pro-legalization Americans for Safe Access held their annual "lobby day" on Capitol Hill, not a single member of Congress granted them a personal audience.
Of course, the cannabis corps wasn't agitated about that. It isn't agitated about much of anything. This might have something to do with the fact that many of its members use marijuana.
The lobby day briefing, scheduled for 11 a.m., was pushed back to noon, at which point the host asked for a further five-minute delay. There were no complaints, perhaps because munchies had been provided — potato chips and sandwiches, as well as Coca-Cola — and the crinkling of wrappers and crunching of chips could be heard throughout the event. If the pot proponents were any more laid back, they would have been horizontal.
In this sense, our perpetually warring lawmakers would have benefited from meeting with the legalization crowd, and perhaps trying some free samples. Our ever-indignant representatives need urgently to chill out and free their minds. If the benefits the medical marijuana advocates touted on Monday are real, Congress should immediately "reefer" the matter to committee to draft a "joint" resolution: Everybody must get stoned.
Jahan Marcu, a Ph.D. who gave the pharmacological portion of Monday's briefing, explained to me the mechanism by which medical marijuana, if consumed by a sufficient number of lawmakers, could cure our political ills. "Cannabis acts upon a system in our body, and that system — the endocannabinoid system — regulates five things," said Marcu, who has long sideburns and wore an open-collar purple shirt. "It helps us to eat, sleep, relax, forget and protect."
Our leaders don't have much trouble eating, and whether they sleep well and are protected from cancer and other illnesses is not our concern. But getting them to relax and to forget? This could be most therapeutic.
Marcu said new research indicates that people who use marijuana perform better intellectually than those who drink alcohol or smoke tobacco. This suggests that if House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, were to switch vices from cigarettes and wine to pot, the body politic might be healthier.
Tests show that marijuana makes animals less sensitive to provocations such as a bell ringing. "If you ring it, they get freaked out," Marcu said. "If you give them a cannabinoid, they tend not to get freaked out."
In addition, cannabis might help lawmakers rise above the cycle of constant combat and revenge — much the way it helps soldiers overcome post-traumatic stress disorder. "That's one great thing about the endocannabinoid system," he said. "It's there to help you forget useless information or information that's harmful."
At the briefing, the advocates took pains to demonstrate their professionalism. Most wore business attire (although one man sported a black cap, sunglasses and a large flower in his lapel) and they spoke about manufacturing processes and growing standards.
"This is an industry that's in the maturation state," said Tim Smale, who runs a marijuana dispensary in Maine. "No longer do you see the hippies and the tie-dyes necessarily speaking." Still, a moment later he got on his knees and asked congressional staffers to help the cause. "I'm not opposed to begging," he said.
Smale, who uses cannabis for his migraines, wants his product to be treated as any other "medicinal herb."
Mike Liszewski, Americans for Safe Access' policy director, described the increasing array of marijuana tinctures and lotions. "There are all kinds of ways to consume medical cannabis without smoking," he said, "although smoking actually does remain a very effective delivery system for many patients."
And so it could be for chronically dyspeptic lawmakers. Smoking dope won't necessarily stop them from making a hash of things. But it could hardly make things worse.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.