Dopes coming around

June 15, 2005

Jessie McQuillan, Missoula Independent (MT)

A spokesman for Montana’s Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg said Tuesday that Rehberg will support a pending House amendment to prohibit federal authorities from prosecuting patients who use medical marijuana in accordance with state law.

“He’s going to support it because that’s Montana’s position,” spokesman Brad Keena said.

The move comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week that federal authorities don’t have to heed laws in 10 states that protect medical marijuana users. The same opinion also said Congress, not the courts, was the proper forum in which to change the feds’ approach to medical marijuana, and the court’s forecast that the issue “may one day be heard in the halls of Congress” is being realized even sooner than anyone thought. The bipartisan amendment to the Department of Justice’s appropriations bill was offered by New York’s Maurice Hinchey and California’s Dana Rohrabacher, and a vote was scheduled for Wednesday after the Independent went to press. The same amendment has been offered the last two years and has failed to muster enough support both times. The wind seems to be shifting, though. For example, Rehberg voted against the amendment in the past, but Keena says his boss has changed his stance since Montanans passed a medical marijuana initiative with 62 percent approval in last November’s election.

Following last week’s Supreme Court decision, Republican Sen. Conrad Burns issued a statement saying he, too, would support at least the idea behind the Hinchey amendment: “Regardless of my thoughts on medical marijuana, the voters in Montana and these other states have clearly spoken their intent, and we should honor that.”

Democratic Sen. Max Baucus’ office, as has become its habit, did not respond to calls from the Independent.

Though federal prosecutions of medical marijuana are rare—a survey by the Drug Policy Alliance found fewer than 20 federal prosecutions since 1996—the change would allay fears of both medical marijuana users and states’ rights advocates in Montana and other states. At the beginning of June, 119 patients across the state had signed on to the state’s confidential registry.

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