House won't undercut pot ruling

June 15, 2005

Andrew Taylor, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Yes, the government can make a federal case out of medical-marijuana use, the House said yesterday.

Less than a week ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can prosecute medical-marijuana users, even when state laws permit doctor-prescribed use of the drug. In response, the House rejected a bid by advocates to undercut the decision.

By a 264-161 vote, the House turned down an amendment that would have blocked the Justice Department from prosecuting people in the 10 states, including Washington, where the practice is legal.

Advocates say it is the only way that many chronically ill people, such as AIDS and cancer patients, can relieve their symptoms.

'It is unconscionable that we in Congress could possibly presume to tell a patient that he or she cannot use the only medication that has proven to combat the pain and symptoms associated with a devastating illness,' said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

Opponents of the amendment said it would undercut efforts to combat marijuana abuse. They said Marinol, a government-approved prescription drug that contains the active ingredient in marijuana, offers comparable relief.

'Marijuana has never been proven as safe and effective for any disease,' said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. 'Marijuana can increase the risk of serious mental-health problems, and in teens, marijuana use can lead to depression, thoughts of suicide, and schizophrenia.'

The vote came as the House debated a $57.5 billion bill covering the departments of Commerce, Justice and State.

Proponents of medical marijuana had hoped to gain momentum after the high court's ruling. A poll for the Marijuana Policy Project found that respondents, by a 68-18 percent margin, believe that medical-marijuana users should not face federal prosecution.

The June 8-11 poll also found that 65 percent of those surveyed favored doctor-prescribed medical marijuana, with 20 percent opposed.

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