Pubdate: Wed, 25 Feb 2015
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Copyright: 2015 East Bay Express
Author: David Downs


How the GOP Led the Way in Defunding the War on Medical Weed.

The American people, in a strange way, can thank Republicans for the 
historic end to the federal war on medical marijuana. Due to a weird 
mix of events, newly elected House Republicans got a chance to do 
something they wanted - represent their constituents' viewpoints on 
legalizing medical marijuana - by essentially doing nothing at all 
late last year.

Central to this story is former tequila-drinking party-boy surfer 
from Huntington Beach named Dana Rohrabacher - a Congressional 
Republican - capitalized on powerful currents in the wake of the 
November 2014 election to float a bill to defund the federal war on 
medical marijuana. Astonishingly, it passed.

For the first time in US history, the Department of Justice cannot 
spend federal funds going after state-legal medical cannabis 
activity. The Farr-Rohrabacher Amendment is already being cited in 
federal courts in cases involving the seizure of both Harborside 
Health Center in Oakland and Berkeley Patients Group in Berkeley.

The law is still open to interpretation, but the symbolism is not. A 
sea change in federal drug policy is underway.

A week ago Sunday in downtown San Francisco, Rohrabacher gave 
attendees at the International Cannabis Business Conference a 
never-before-heard account of what went on behind the scenes in 
Congress last December. "The leadership of the Republican Party in 
the House was not opposed to this amendment and had they been 
opposed, they could have whacked it out at any moment," he said.

The November 2014 election was a terrible day for Democrats as 
Republicans swept to power in the Senate, gaining control of both 
chambers of Congress for the first time in the Obama presidency. 
Republicans wanted to dismantle Barack Obama's legacy, but the first 
order of business was the budget. In order to avoid a government 
default, Republicans - and Democrats - had to pass a budget by the end of 2014.

Congress usually loads up its budget legislation each year with 
hundreds of amendments, and the idea of de-funding the government's 
war on medical marijuana was not new - it had been proposed before.

When the legislation was first introduced in 2003, it was no more 
than a lovable longshot, but the last time the amendment made it to 
the House floor in early 2014, it got a shocking number of bipartisan 
votes. This time around, Rohrabacher partnered with House Democrat 
Sam Farr of Salinas on the amendment (with ten co-sponsors) and added 
it in December as a rider on the huge, trillion-dollar, so-called 
"Cromnibus" budget bill.

With amendments like this - "it doesn't just come to a vote [on the 
floor of the House]," Rohrabacher said. The amendment, he explained, 
had to go through the Rules Committee, and a process known as "scoring."

If a bill manages to pass the House Rules Committee, then the 
legislation typically goes through a process called "scoring," in 
which the Congressional Budget Office determines the impact of the 
bill on the federal budget. Members of Congress are then essentially 
asked, "'how are you going to vote on this?'" Rohrabacher said.

But Rohrabacher was deliberately coy about what went on with his 
rider. He told the crowd with a smile, "it was approved by the Rules 
Committee. Hmmm."

The rider then moved to the floor, which is when it would have 
typically been scored. "It wasn't scored," Rohrabacher said, and 
smiled. "Hmmm."

With no score, the rider passed, and then it went to the Senate and 
president, who, in turn, did what they said they would do - pass and 
sign the budget in order to not let the government shut down.

"I was able to talk to various people in leadership and ... they 
found a way to 'let Dana be the point man here. Let him take all the 
grief if this has a bad impact.' The lead sled dog has the best view, 
but he is the one who gets bit in the ass," Rohrabacher said. "And 
you know what? It hasn't happened."

The former Reagan speechwriter and self-described "right-wing" 
"libertarian-conservative" said the Republican Party is essentially 
split. About 50 percent of the party, he said, is open to 
legalization on libertarian philosophical grounds - that "this is in 
keeping with the basic principles of our country": states' rights, 
small government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and 
getting politicians out of the doctor-patient relationship.

The other half has negative associations with pot. "They just have a 
gut response to marijuana of any kind. It's associated with a 
lifestyle they don't like - long-haired people with beards - people 
who make fun of their religious beliefs and their own things," he 
said. "They've got this visceral response to this lifestyle. They 
think that's what marijuana is all about and it's not."

The de-funding amendment comes up for renewal this year, Rohrabacher 
said. "We are on the edge now of building a new coalition," he said. 
"This year, I think we can win with a much bigger majority.

"We have a great opportunity in front of us now," he continued. "We 
have reached a tipping point."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom