Pubdate: Fri, 27 Jul 2007
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: A - 4
Copyright: 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Edward Epstein, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Freshmen Dems Blamed in Defeat of Plan to Stop Feds

Washington -- Backers of a proposal that would have blocked federal 
authorities from interfering in state-approved medicinal marijuana 
programs, stung by a disappointing defeat in the House, are zeroing 
in on freshmen Democrats such as Rep. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton 
who opposed the proposal.

The proposal, which advocates have introduced for several years, 
would have barred the Drug Enforcement Administration from stopping 
the medicinal use of marijuana in the 12 states including California 
where voters or the legislature have moved to legalize such pot use.

But the House voted 262-165 to defeat the bipartisan amendment 
offered by Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, 
R-Huntington Beach (Orange County).

The medicinal pot forces, who cite public opinion polls and votes of 
the public in California, among other states, as they lobby 
lawmakers, were particularly angry that freshman Democrats, including 
McNerney, voted late Wednesday against the proposal, which was an 
amendment to the annual Justice Department spending bill.

Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project called McNerney's vote 

"How can anyone call themselves a progressive, which he regularly 
does, and then vote to send AIDS and cancer patients to jail after 
voters in his own state voted to help them instead?" Mirken asked. 
"People who support him need to ask him some questions."

Last year, the Hinchey-Rohrabacher proposal won 163 votes. But 
medical marijuana backers expected more support in a House now 
controlled by Democrats, and with a freshman Democratic class of 42 members.

McNerney, who alone among the Bay Area's all-Democratic House 
delegation voted against the measure, tied marijuana use to other 
illegal drugs.

"We are facing a drug crisis with meth and other drug use on the 
rise. Until we get a handle on the crippling drug use in our society, 
I cannot support the relaxation of current drug policy," McNerney 
said in a statement.

"I have spoken to many law enforcement officials concerned about the 
effect of drug use on our communities, particularly in San Joaquin 
County. The problem is real. Just yesterday, Stockton police 
announced a successful illegal drug sweep -- in cooperation with 
other law enforcement agencies -- that led to 51 arrests and the 
seizure of over 12 pounds of illegal substances," he said.

McNerney was elected in November, defeating the Bay Area's lone House 
Republican, Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy.

Hinchey admitted he was disappointed in the latest vote.

"I thought we'd break 180 votes. In fact, my goal was 185 votes," 
Hinchey said. "I'm disappointed, but not disappointed enough to stop."

But Mirken, whose group had increased lobbying efforts this year to 
boost the amendment's vote count, said it is time for medicinal 
marijuana backers to reconsider their strategy. He said there is a 
disconnect between polls that show widespread support for the rights 
of doctors to recommend marijuana for patients and a lack of support 
in Congress.

"We will sit down and look at this very hard," he said.

There appears to be no alternative to getting Congress to block 
enforcement of federal law criminalizing marijuana. In 2005, the U.S. 
Supreme Court ruled that changes to the law were up to Congress, not 
the states.

The amendment's opponents said allowing states to give patients 
access to pot is dangerous.

"Not only does this amendment hurt law enforcement's efforts to 
combat drug trafficking, but it sends the wrong message. Marijuana is 
the most widely abused drug in he United States," said Rep. Rodney 
Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.

In the end, 150 Democrats voted for the amendment, with 79 opposed. 
Fifteen Republicans voted yes; 183 opposed it.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake