Hinchey fails in bid to support medical marijuana

June 15, 2005

Erin Kelly, Press & Sun-Bulletin

The House defeated Rep. Maurice Hinchey's attempt to stop the federal government from prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical purposes in states that allow the practice.

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 Lawmakers voted 264-161 Wednesday against the New York Democrat's proposal to stop the Justice Department from going after doctors and patients in the 10 states that permit the medical use of marijuana.

New York is not one of those states, but Hinchey said he got involved because it's 'a human rights issue.'

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that federal drug laws give federal agents the right to go after doctors who prescribe marijuana and patients who use it to relieve pain from chemotherapy, AIDS and other diseases. Medical marijuana is legal under state law in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

'I think it's a humane thing to allow someone to get relief from their pain so that hopefully their bodies can get stronger and recover,' Hinchey said. 'I don't understand why anybody would object to that, frankly.'

Opponents said Hinchey's amendment, which was co-sponsored by conservative Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., would undermine efforts to convince young people that marijuana is a dangerous drug.

'It really sends the wrong message to our children that there can be health benefits to smoking marijuana,' said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. 'I think this could be very, very confusing to young people.'

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., said other medications could relieve pain without the patient 'getting high.'

Souder said the attitude of drug users is: 'Wouldn't it be great if we could call it medication so we could all smoke pot?'

But Hinchey said opponents ignored studies done for the National Academy of Sciences and others showing marijuana can relieve chronic pain in some patients who don't respond to anything else.

'There's a certain lack of courage on issues like this,' Hinchey said. 'Politicians are fearful of those 30-second ads from their election opponents accusing them of being soft on drugs.'

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