Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jul 2007
Source: Hill, The (US DC)
Page: Cover Article
Copyright: 2007 The Hill
Author: Betsy Rothstein
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


So this is how he is: The chief lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy 
Project has short, clean-cut blond hair, and wears crisp, dark suits 
and conservative red-and-blue patterned ties. There is not a hint of 
dope pusher about him. He's 28, married with three children, and 
possesses a boyish face, easy laugh and driven demeanor. He doesn't 
even have a tattoo.

And his office? Downtown Geekville. His desk is neat and tidy. 
Volumes of Riddick's Senate Procedure and Deschler-Brown Precedents 
of the U.S. House of Representatives are displayed prominently on it. 
Like other buttoned-up lobbyists, he dines at locales such as Bistro 
Bis, The Monocle and Sonoma.

His only nod to liberal living is that he lives in Takoma Park, Md., 
a hippyish community where people stick anti-war and "Impeach Bush" 
cardboard signs in their front lawns.

Last week, Showtime aired "In Pot We Trust," a documentary that 
shines light on Washington's marijuana lobby by spending days with 
Houston and four chronically ill patients who rely on marijuana but 
are tripped up by federal narcotics laws. The youthful lobbyist walks 
the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building and has a chance 
encounter with the chief opponent of the marijuana lobby, Rep. Mark 
Souder (R-Ind.), who closes a door on him. Souder insists there is no 
such thing as medical marijuana.

Houston also has hugfest encounters with lawmakers who support the 
cause, such as Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), Ron Paul (R-Texas) and 
Sam Farr (D-Calif.).

Houston lobbies for the Medical Marijuana Amendment, which would stop 
the federal government from interfering with state medical marijuana 
laws. The bill would end Drug Enforcement Administration raids on 
medical marijuana patients; it does not prevent arrests of those 
using marijuana for non-medical purposes. So far 12 states have 
legalized the use of medical marijuana with 163 lawmakers backing the 
amendment last year. Another vote is expected next week. There is 
much work to do and many lawmakers to sway.

Houston is on a personal crusade. His father has prostate cancer. His 
grandfather has had it, too. His aunt had breast cancer and died of 
lung cancer. He once lived with his grandmother who has Alzheimer's 
disease. Houston says medicinal marijuana helps block the plaque that 
leads to Alzheimer's.

The film does not address Houston's recreational use of marijuana, so 
I will. He first smoked pot at 16. "I don't think there is a single 
college student in this country who didn't use it," he says.

He was growing up in Denver and spent his summers working in a 
landscaping job. The crew smoked pot and "did very, very little 
work." He won't say whether he still uses pot. "I don't really like 
to answer that question," he says. Hmm, wonder why?

He adds, "When the president comes clean about his record, I'll come 
clean about mine," although he also says President Bush, with his 
Nixonian low approval ratings, is not an ideal role model.

These days, at least in public, Houston's drug of choice appears to 
be coffee. He sips constantly, and seems to have caffeine twitches.

He describes his motivation: "I was attracted to this job because I 
wanted to use my skills not to work for personalities but to work for 
issues to help people directly. I think it's reprehensible that we're 
arresting and raiding sick people. It's a moral outrage.

"I am very impressed with how many members take this issue deadly seriously."

But he is also used to people laughing and cracking jokes about 
marijuana use, and suggesting it is "so people can get high.'"

Still, he meets and talks to lawmakers and gets invited to many of 
the big-ticket events, such as last month's President's Dinner at the 
D.C. Convention Center, a Republican reception. Many GOP lawmakers 
were there; Houston reports that they often tell him, "I think the 
libertarian side of me agrees with you." Even Rep. Dan Burton 
(R-Ind.), a conservative, voted with the marijuana lobby last year, 
Houston notes.

"The chief challenge is helping politicians realize that this is not 
at all politically risky. I talk to a lot of members. The members 
don't always realize that."

To that end, the Marijuana Policy Project has brought on former GOP 
Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) to help lobby the tougher members of Congress.

Houston says working with Barr is wonderful: "I have a great deal of 
respect and admiration for Bob Barr. Some people hate him. People who 
are contemptuous of him are happy he's lobbying with us. Even if they 
don't like what he did in Congress, they still realize the potency of 
somebody like him coming to them and saying, 'You should take another 
look at these issues.'"

Houston and his wife watched the Showtime film with their children: a 
7-month-old son, a 2-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. "They 
wanted to see Daddy in the film," Houston says.

The marijuana lobbyist told his 5-year-old that pot is a "medicine 
like any other drug." What will he say in years to come if his 
children want to use it recreationally?

"We don't use drugs unless we need them," he says, mimicking what 
he'd say. "Marijuana is not good for developing minds."

"In Pot we Trust" airs again on Showtime tonight at midnight and 
Thursday at 6:45 p.m. It airs on "On Demand" until Aug. 6. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake