11/02/2012 05:49 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

What Does the Election Mean for Medical Marijuana Patients?

You've read pundits on the impact of the tight presidential race on the budget, on taxes, even on the weather. One important issue that could be decided by Tuesday's election is medical marijuana. With federal and state policy in conflict and in flux, medical marijuana is one of America's highest-profile unresolved issues. After this election, resolution may be a step closer.

My organization, Americans for Safe Access, has been leading the fight for medical marijuana patients for ten years, and we were not going to sit back during this important election just because Obama says he's friendlier to our cause than his opponents. There have been more DEA raids against medical marijuana facilities in the four years of the Obama administration than there were in eight years of Bush, but President Obama was the first president to publicly express sympathy for suffering patients who can be helped by medical cannabis. Rather than attacking Obama's poor record on the issue and siding with another candidate, we helped rally patients and supporters to ask him to back off the raids, by launching and staging rallies and actions across the nation.

Did we wake up Obama? Only time will tell -- if he earns another term -- but certainly the issue of medical marijuana was in the spotlight as Governor Romney and Representative Ryan were forced to answer questions about it. More often than not, it seemed, their somewhat sympathetic statements about cannabis had to be retracted by their campaigns. If the Republicans win the presidency, along with ever-increasing numbers of Republican Congressmen supporting the cause, patients will continue to press for friendlier federal laws.

We will press on no matter who wins the federal election because state laws are continuing their trend toward greater access to marijuana for patients and researchers. Right now, about a third of the country lives in a state with a medical cannabis law. Cities and states are confronting federal law enforcement in court over medical cannabis facilities and regulations. Medical marijuana is in need of a resolution at the federal level.

The president and Congress each have the power to end the federal-state divide over medical marijuana policy. In the next weeks or months, the judiciary may prod the policymakers to act by ruling on the patients' lawsuit heard by Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on October 16th. Americans for Safe Access v Drug Enforcement Administration, as the lawsuit is named, argues that the rejection of marijuana's medical value by federal policy is not based on a reasonable understanding of the available science, and does not conform to the letter or spirit of the Controlled Substances Act. A similar argument is being advanced by noted physicist Dr. John Schwarz, the father of Superstring Theory, who has authored an op-ed urging President Obama to uphold his promise to put science before politics, and base marijuana policy on its demonstrated medical value. Meanwhile, patients can take matters into their own hands, by using tools like to inform themselves on their Representative's record before casting a ballot.

Beyond your vote, you can help the three medical marijuana campaigns with a donation or with your time. There are active, closely-fought initiatives for medical marijuana access that could use help, in Arkansas, Massachusetts and Montana -- click on the state for a link to the campaign. I traveled to Arkansas this week, and I'm making signs and distributing them to activists around the state to help get out the vote. Your help will make a difference as well.

With states voting on whether to adopt medical access to marijuana next week, and many bills pending in state legislatures, the tension between state and federal positions on marijuana will only rise. The president, congressmen and state and local officials that we elect next week will be empowered to settle this issue once and for all -- if they choose to.