Medical marijuana patients make case in DC

April 05, 2007

Roger Phelps, Mountain Democrat

A recent Washington, D.C., conference among U.S. Rep. John Doolittle and two El DoradoCounty residents took up a conflict between medical patients’ state-granted right to grow marijuana and a continuing dismissal of the right by federal prosecutors. “It was the first time I had met with advocates of medical marijuana,” Doolittle said of the caucus with county residents Matt Vaughn and Don Kearney.

Vaughn said Doolittle listened intently while the pair of petitioners outlined the rupture between federal and California law, emphasizing worst-case scenarios of homeowners facing federal seizure of their dwellings and other assets even though protected from this practice under state law.

Vaughn, who is director of the non-profit Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association of El Dorado County, said, “Don and I found Mr. Doolittle genuinely receptive to the concerns of California-qualified medical marijuana patients.”

Doolittle said he heard a sound presentation of hardship caused by tension between federal controlled-substance statutes and the California Compassionate Use Act.

“I thought they made the best case for it,” he said. “It’s an uncomfortable coexistence of laws. I view it as an unsettled area (but currently) federal law trumps.”

Opponents of the 1996 state medical marijuana law said they believed it was passed largely as part of a broad-based effort at eventually legalizing pot possession over the entire population. Doolittle said he tended to share that view, but acknowledged the usefulness of medical marijuana as a palliative for patients’ severe pain.

Doolittle said he is not currently inclined to introduce legislation to resolve the conflict between federal and California law. He cited his uncertainty over whether the state medical marijuana law is linked to drug abuse in the general population, and implied he would give the matter further thought.

“If I could be satisfied it wouldn’t open doors to drug abuse ...,” he said, but finished by saying, “I don’t know what I’d do.”

Vaughn said his organization will continue to push for a resolution of the now 10-year-old conflict between the federal Controlled Substances Act and the California Compassionate Use Act.

“We are optimistic that a line can be drawn to protect patients from unreasonable search and seizure,” he said.

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