Pubdate: Mon, 14 Jul 2014
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2014 Virgin Islands Daily News
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - In the topsyturvy world of marijuana politics,
conservative Republican Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state is the
unlikely hero of the moment, lauded for trying to protect medical pot
users from federal arrest.

In Florida, liberal Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is
portrayed as the unlikely villain, a politician willing to send sick
marijuana using patients to prison.

Both found themselves in television advertisements that ran in their
home states last month, part of a new trend in the increasingly hot
pot wars.

While marijuana lobbyists once were content to play nice in their
media messaging, the new ads reflect a confrontational style aimed at
exposing records and getting elected leaders to board the pot
legalization bandwagon - or at least get out of the way.

The ads are tougher and more visceral, often featuring pleas from ill
people who want to use marijuana legally. They portend a new strategy
that promises to be on display in the upcoming congressional elections
and the 2016 presidential race, when pot might emerge as a sleeper

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is already under pressure to
side with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who recently
reversed course by saying states should be allowed to legalize without
federal interference.

"He's testing the waters for her, and he's smart to do that. ... I'm
begging her people to get her to say something," said Adam Eidinger,
the chairman of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which has turned in 55,000
signatures to get legalization on the November ballot in Washington,

With Washington state and Colorado already selling recreational pot
and 23 states allowing the drug for medical reasons, Eidinger warned
that politicians who ignore the issue do so at their own risk. He said
it was "unbelievable" that Hillary Clinton's new book didn't mention

"If you're interested in being powerful, you need to take the
marijuana lobby seriously," Eidinger said. "You don't want the
marijuana lobby singling you out."

Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, predicted that 2016 will be the
first year that marijuana gets more than "a passing mention" in a
presidential race.

With the latest Gallup Poll finding that 58 percent of Americans back
legalization, he predicted that many politicians, especially
Democrats, will campaign on the issue to appeal to younger voters. He
noted that even Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a potential GOP
presidential candidate, is backing more lenient marijuana laws.

With pot lobbyists eager to show results, St. Pierre expects no end to
the harder-edged ads. Before, he said, the industry ran only "pro-pot
polemicals" aimed at influencing public opinion, never picking fights
with politicians.

"They didn't want to draw their ire," St. Pierre said.

The latest ads seek to sway Congress to back a bill to cut off funds
for the Justice Department to enforce federal laws against marijuana
use in states that have voted to make the drug legal for medical
purposes. After passing the House of Representatives by 219-189 in
late May, the bill is pending in the Senate.

When Wasserman Schultz voted against it, a group called Americans for
Safe Access ran a series of 30-second television ads in South Florida,
calling her "out of touch." The group said she was one of only 18
House Democrats to oppose the measure.

In Washington state, the group ran two ads, one praising Hastings for
backing the bill and another criticizing Republican Rep. Cathy
McMorris Rodgers for opposing it.

The latter featured 70-year-old Larry Harvey of Kettle Falls, Wash.,
who faces a possible 10-year prison sentence for growing marijuana
that he used to treat his gout and knee pain. His farm is in McMorris
Rodgers' district.

"I voted to send Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to Congress, and
she voted to send me to prison," Harvey said in the ad.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, said the group
had decided to run a positive ad featuring Hastings to balance its
media campaign, broadening it beyond members who'd been "aggressively

"We just didn't want to target politicians who have come down on the
wrong side of the issue," said Hermes.

He said the group expected to run more similar ads. The group has also
designed a state-by-state report card, showing how members of Congress
have voted on medical marijuana.

Hastings and McMorris Rodgers declined to comment.

In a statement, Wasserman Schultz said she supported "evidence-based
medical marijuana treatment" but that she'd voted against the bill
because it wasn't appropriate to limit the Obama administration's
ability to enforce federal laws.

Earlier this year, the pro-legalization group Marijuana Policy Project
ran ads against two Democratic governors, Mark Dayton of Minnesota and
Andrew Cuomo of New York, urging them to back medical marijuana bills.

In the Minnesota ad, a man with muscular dystrophy said he didn't
understand why Dayton would block the legislation, adding: "I am a
patient, not a criminal."

In the New York ad, a psychiatrist made a direct plea to Cuomo on
behalf of his wife, who has Parkinson's disease: "Knowing there's a
medication that could help my wife, but that medication is illegal
here in New York, is agonizing."

On July 7, Cuomo signed a bill that made New York the latest state to
pass a medical marijuana law. Dayton signed off on his state's plan in

Legalization opponents say the efforts to stop pot prosecutions are

"Out here in Washington, it's sad to me that the politicization of
this has ignored the health and safety risks for kids and
communities," said Derek Franklin, Washington state coordinator of
Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). "And regardless of what
folks think of the legalization experiments, part of how this can work
is if there's robust enforcement."

Franklin said children in the state were getting exposed again to ads
with pro-marijuana messages, just as they were in 2012.

"Ads like this just continue to erode what healthy norms we've got
left," he said.

Lobbyists predict that their political muscle will only

"The demographics are going to continue to evolve in our favor because
of the younger voters, because of the older population dying off,"
said Eidinger.

And lobbyists expect the issue's popularity to result in new
alliances. They noted that many Florida Democrats are backing a
November ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana, hopeful it will
aid gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist. Eidinger also wants Hillary
Clinton to go to Florida to endorse the measure.

In Maryland, Republican Rep. Andy Harris is getting a taste of things
to come.

Last month, Americans for Safe Access ran an ad against Harris after
he gave a speech opposing medical marijuana and voted against the bill
to strip funding from the Justice Department.

He's also upset officials in Washington, D.C., by trying to block the
city from decriminalizing marijuana. In March, the D.C. Council voted
to make possession of a small amount a misdemeanor with a $25 fine,
but Congress must approve the law. Harris got the House Appropriations
Committee to back an amendment to kill the plan.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D