Pubdate: Thu, 16 Jun 2005
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2005 The Sacramento Bee
Note: Does not publish letters from outside its circulation area.
Author: David Whitney
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich ( )


WASHINGTON - A week after the Supreme Court ruled that medical marijuana
laws in California and nine other states are no bar to federal drug
prosecution, the House voted down an amendment that would have stopped the
Justice Department from bringing such cases. Although medical marijuana
advocates never thought they would have the votes to bar federal
prosecutions, some had predicted that because of the heightened interest
after the Supreme Court's ruling that they would do better than Wednesday's
264-161 vote.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said Tuesday that House Minority Leader Nancy
Pelosi of San Francisco had been working the issue hard among Democrats and
that he felt certain that there would be 180 or more votes for the amendment
to a 2006 Justice Department funding bill.

Still, there was some comfort in Wednesday's vote for medical marijuana
advocates. Since 2003, when the chamber took its first vote to bar spending
money on federal prosecution of medical marijuana users, the number of
members saying no to that idea has dropped by 11.

"We pick up votes each time as we continue to educate the public," said
Steve Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This
is just a matter of time."

Among California's House members, 35 of the state's 53 representatives
supported the amendment - roughly the same division as in earlier votes.
Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Newport Beach, did not vote.

Sacramento-area congressional members reflect that stasis. The two new
members since the last vote a year ago - Reps. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River,
and Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento - voted like their predecessors.

"I am very concerned about drug use in this country and am opposed to
efforts to legalize marijuana," said Matsui, elected in March to fill the
seat of her late husband, Rep. Robert Matsui. "However, if in the course of
treating an illness, a qualified physician feels that marijuana would offer
a patient relief, then I think that patient should be allowed to purchase
and use the drug with a prescription."

Lungren, who was state attorney general when California voters passed the
medical marijuana initiative in 1996, voted against the one-year bar to
federal prosecutions, calling it a "sledgehammer" treatment of an issue that
needs considerable more study.

"Small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes have a way of turning into
fairly large grows," Lungren said. "If this amendment passes, no matter how
large the grow was, the federal government would be barred from eradicating

Lungren, like many other opponents Wednesday, said the focus should be on
finding ways to synthesize marijuana's chemical compounds so they can be
used safely in medical situations. But critics said that the federal
government has stood in the way of such research.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that state laws permitting marijuana
possession and cultivation by patients with a doctor's recommendation are
not a bar to federal enforcement of drug laws.

But in the majority opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court
expressed sympathy for the sick for whom marijuana has been recommended by
their doctors. The opinion urged a congressional review of the treatment of
marijuana under federal drug laws.

Marijuana is now treated like heroin or other street drugs that are flatly
illegal under any circumstances because they are not classified for medical
use. Other drugs that may be addictive but that have a medical use are
classified differently, and possession is not illegal if prescribed by a

In many ways, the debate over medical marijuana reflects a clash of
cultures. Many advocates cite studies showing marijuana can be highly
effective in treating the harshest symptoms of cancer, AIDS and other
diseases, but opponents see the substance as a dangerous recreational drug
and its medical uses a ruse for its eventual legalization.

Calling it a backdoor attempt to legalize marijuana, Rep. Mark Souder,
R-Ind., said it was "shysters and quacks" who were prescribing it.

"This is a camel's nose under the tent" for legalization, said Rep. Steve
King, R-Iowa.

But among the key sponsors of the amendment was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher,
R-Huntington Beach.

Rohrabacher said that many drugs are harmful but still have medical benefits
when taken under the guidance of a physician.

"Marijuana is no different than that," he said. "Let's not have a power grab
by the federal government at the expense of these patients."

Pelosi called the vote "a state's rights issue" because it put the federal
prosecution ahead of state laws that in eight instances, including in
California, had been voter-approved.

"We must not make criminals out of seriously ill people," she said.
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