Pubdate: Sat, 12 Jul 2008
Source: Alameda Times-Star, The (CA)
Copyright: 2008 ANG Newspapers
Author: Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune
Bookmark: (Hinchey-Rohrabacher)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Rep. Jerry McNerney is now willing to vote for an amendment he'd 
opposed last year that would bar the federal government from spending 
money to arrest or prosecute medical-marijuana patients in the states 
- -- including California -- where medical marijuana is legal.

"In the past year, the congressman has met several patients with 
debilitating illnesses that use doctor-prescribed medical marijuana," 
McNerney spokesman Andy Stone said Friday. "Hearing their stories, he 
feels that he cannot in good conscience deny doctor-prescribed 
treatment to a person that experiences excruciating pain on a daily basis."

Asked if this means McNerney, D-Pleasanton, will vote for the 
Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment when it's brought forward again in the 
next few weeks, Stone replied, "That's a fair assumption."

Dan Bernath, assistant communications director for the Marijuana 
Policy Project, was thrilled by the news.

"The support for medical marijuana and for the idea that states ought 
to be able to make these decisions for themselves ... has grown every 
year" since 2004, Bernath said Friday. "So it's very encouraging that 
Congressman McNerney has decided to support patients in his area, but 
I wouldn't say it's surprising."

A series of judicial defeats -- including the U.S. Supreme Court's 
2005 ruling in a case brought by Oakland activist Angel Raich -- has 
had medical-marijuana advocates pinning most of their hopes on 
Congress. The bipartisan amendment to the 
Science-State-Justice-Commerce Appropriations bill has been 
introduced in each year since 2003, and takes its name from sponsors 
Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach. 
The amendment was defeated in 2007 on a 165-262 vote; it got 163 
votes in 2006, 161 votes in 2005, 148 in 2004 and 152 in 2003.

Half of the House's freshmen Democrats, including McNerney, opposed 
it last year. But with polls showing Democratic strength in this 
November's House elections, it's possible some now feel they have a 
bit more cover if they choose to displease a few conservative 
constituents this year.

Still, McNerney's 11th Congressional District -- where growing 
Democratic voter registration still falls 2.4 percentage points short 
of Republican registration -- is widely believed to offer the Bay 
Area's only truly competitive House race this year. Dean Andal, the 
Stockton Republican challenging McNerney this November, said Friday 
he strongly disagrees with McNerney's change of heart on this issue.

"It's probably hard to explain Jerry's position in our district. Some 
of our communities, like Stockton, are under assault from drug 
dealers," Andal said. "I do not believe that federal authorities 
should be handcuffed in their effort to interdict dangerous drugs 
including marijuana. ... The problem with medical marijuana is it's a 
red herring. These medical marijuana stores, so-called, have very low 
standards, there are people who don't have painful conditions who 
have ready access. ... Frankly, I think it's an outrage that Jerry 
would take this position."

McNerney last year had issued a statement saying his vote against the 
amendment was based on his conversations with law enforcement 
officials about the effect of drug use on his district's communities, 
particularly in San Joaquin County. "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," he said at that time.

Medical marijuana advocates at that time had dismissed McNerney's 
explanation as an unfounded excuse for a politically safe vote.

Other Bay Area House Democrats have supported the amendment for 
years. Only Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, has consistently opposed 
it, saying he doesn't believe use of marijuana for medical purposes 
should be legal, and that the amendment is an attempt to circumvent 
existing federal law. A Cardoza aide said Friday the lawmaker's 
stance is unchanged. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake