Pubdate: Mon, 25 May 2015
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Debra J. Saunders


The Senate Appropriations Committee did something last week the 
Senate has never done - it passed a marijuana reform measure.

It was the narrowest of proposals, an amendment co-authored by Sens. 
Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to a military 
spending bill that would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs 
from using federal money to prosecute doctors who recommend medical 
marijuana to veterans in states where the drug is legal.

Last year, the House passed five measures that supported states' 
rights on marijuana.

But the Senate would not budge - until Thursday. Twelve Democrats and 
four Republicans supported the amendment.

Most amazing of all was a "yes" vote from Sen. Dianne Feinstein. 
"We've always had Dianne Feinstein down as a 'no' vote," policy maven 
Michael Collins of the anti-drug-war Drug Policy Alliance told me. 
The California Democrat has been a staunch hawk in the war on drugs. 
She has described marijuana as a gateway drug. She would have been 
the only Democrat to vote "no." But DiFi voted "yes," although, 
Collins noted, her "'yes' was the most muffled yes I've ever heard in my life."

A like-minded House amendment failed less than a month ago in a 
213-210 vote, but if the Senate amendment passes, it could survive a 
joint conference committee.

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority observed, "Elected officials are 
finally starting to wake up to the fact that endorsing marijuana 
reform is good politics instead of the dangerous third-rail they've 
long viewed it as, and that means a lot more victories are on the way soon."

Collins believes the landscape changed in March, when Sens. Cory 
Booker, D-N.J., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., 
introduced the Carers (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and 
Respect States) Act. The measure would bar the Department of Justice 
from using federal dollars to prosecute medical-marijuana 
dispensaries in states where they are legal and reclassify marijuana 
from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug to allow for more medical 
research of cannabis.

Feinstein has yet to reveal how she will vote on this bill.

On Thursday, Collins told me, Feinstein was pushing an alternate, 
watered-down amendment, which she failed to put up for a vote. Then 
she went with Daines-Merkley. "I strongly believe more research into 
the potential medical benefits of marijuana - specifically 
cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive component - is needed, and I am 
working to reduce barriers to conducting that research at the federal 
level," quoth DiFi in a statement. "In the interim, I believe doctors 
at VA facilities in states where medical marijuana is legal should be 
able to discuss the potential benefits and harms of marijuana with 
their patients, especially those suffering from chronic pain or 
terminal illnesses."

It wasn't that long ago - January - that Feinstein and Sen. Charles 
Grassley, R-Iowa, were urging the Obama administration to be tougher 
on states that legalized recreational marijuana, lest the United 
States be seen as flouting U.N. conventions. This month, she has been 
forced to recognize that marijuana may have medical benefits and 
veterans in states that have legalized medical marijuana should have 
access to it. The ground has shifted.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom