Advocacy group targets anti-pot House members

November 20, 2003

SCOTT VANHORNE, Staff Writer, San Bernardino Sun

SAN BERNARDINO - Medical marijuana advocates are telling voters to call a local congressman and others who didn't support a measure to end federal raids on patients who use and grow pot. 'We are educating their districts about their voting record, so they can educate their congressmen about compassion,' said Step Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, on Thursday. Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, and two other California congressmen were targeted for voting against an appropriations amendment that failed by a 273-to-152 vote in July. The legislation called for an end to federal investigations of pot patients in states with medical marijuana laws. Even if the measure had passed, it would have needed Senate and presidential approval before becoming law. 'It would have been a very steep hill to climb for this legislation,' said Aaron Lewis, a spokesman for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, who sponsored the amendment. Americans for Safe Access, a Berkeley-based medical marijuana advocacy group, plans to call about 600,000 voters and urge them to contact representatives who voted against the amendment. Michael Townsend, Baca's chief of staff, said the office has already received some calls about the legislation, but it will take more than that to convince Baca that medicinal pot is a worthy cause. 'Generally speaking, he is not supportive of medical marijuana,' he said. Baca set up a meeting with some medical marijuana advocates, but they didn't show up, he said. Townsend said Baca doesn't support the 'carte blanche' use of medical marijuana that came when Californians passed Proposition 215 in 1996. The initiative allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for any illness if the drug provides relief. Federal law, however, defines marijuana as an illegal drug with no medical use. The Drug Enforcement Administration has raided numerous medical- marijuana distribution centers in the state. Ten other states including Colorado, Nevada, Alaska and Maryland have passed similar medical marijuana laws. DEA agents targeted medical marijuana patients Gary and Anna Barrett of Barstow in May. Their arrest came days after a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge dismissed pot- cultivation charges because the two have a doctor's recommendation to use the drug. 'Now they are charged with the exact things that have already been dealt with in the local court,' said Daniel Halpern, the couple's attorney. Gary Barrett, 35, said he used marijuana to treat Crohn's disease, a painful bowel disorder. His wife, 32, used pot to ease pain and muscle spasms she's suffered since falling from a five-story ledge in 1995. The two were forced to stop using marijuana after posting bond on federal drug charges that could put them in prison for 22 years. Now, they use Marinol, a synthetic form of the active ingredient in marijuana, to treat their illnesses. 'It provides some relief, but it's ineffective consistently,' Gary Barrett said.

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