House med pot bill fails, but support grows

July 12, 2006

Liz Highleyman, Bay Area Reporter

The House of Representatives last month failed to pass a bill that would have stopped the federal government from arresting patients in states with medical marijuana laws. Advocates, however, said that support for medical cannabis is growing.

The bipartisan Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, sponsored by Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-New York) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), would have barred the Department of Justice and its Drug Enforcement Administration from using its funds to interfere with medical marijuana laws now in effect in 11 states, including California.

The measure lost by a vote of 163-259, on June 28 but gained two more votes – and three more Republican votes – than the same measure received last year.

"Support for medical marijuana has hit yet another high-water mark in Congress," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Eleven states have legalized medical marijuana in 11 years, and the latest national poll shows that an astounding 78 percent of voters want to see medical marijuana legal. It's hard to imagine a scenario where Congress will not pass our medical marijuana legislation by, say, 2009."

Advocacy organizations, including Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, lobbied heavily in support of the amendment.

"Our government should not stand in the way of the medicine that has been legally recommended by the doctors of thousands of Americans in 11 states," wrote ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer in a recent op-ed piece. "The Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment is an important measure that will protect patients and respect state laws. It will also help scientists and doctors work with Congress to create a sane national medicinal cannabis policy."

Opponents of the measure cited an April statement from the Food and Drug Administration that cannabis has no proven medicinal value, and said patients could use the approved legal THC pill, Marinol (dronabinol).

Increasing support

The MPP's Kampia noted that it was particularly significant that the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment picked up increased support during an election year.

"The amendment's strong showing this year probably has something to do with the fact that Citizens Against Government Waste and other conservative organizations are now lobbying alongside a host of medical and other organizations, including the American Nurses Association, to pass the amendment," Kampia stated.

On June 26, CAGW issued a report (www.cagw.org/site/DocServer/Drug_Report.pdf?docID=1661) criticizing the federal government for "using valuable taxpayer dollars to track down and persecute medical marijuana patients that are using the drug legally in their state."

The organization added that the amendment would "free up federal dollars for more important priorities and help to restore a proper division of power between the state and federal governments."

A week earlier, on June 21, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA passed a resolution affirming its support of cannabis "for legitimate medical purposes as recommended by a physician" (72.54.6.218/Business/Business.aspx?iid=134).

The resolution commits the church to urge President Bush to support federal legislation allowing for the use of medical cannabis, and to "seek federal protection for patients, caregivers, and their physicians from prosecution by local and state authorities, and physicians from negative repercussions by their licensing bodies."

The Episcopal Church, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church have previously affirmed their support for medical cannabis.

"It is the job of religious denominations to give voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves," said the Reverend Jim McNeil of the Homestead Presbytery in Nebraska. "We pray that Congress will have the compassion to stop this war on patients."



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