Medical Marijuana Advocates Target Rep. Baca

November 26, 2003

Brenda Gazzar, Inland Empire Daily Bulletin

(Thursday, Nov. 27) ONTARIO - A local congressman has been targeted by a medical marijuana advocacy group who opposes his record on the issue.

Registered voters in the district of Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, have received calls in recent days from the Berkeley-based Americans for Safe Access to criticize the congressman's vote against ending federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers.

The organization, which ended the phone campaign Monday, is now preparing to start a letter-writing, e-mail and holiday card campaign against him and other politicians, which could begin as early as next week.

"This is an education campaign, not a political campaign," said William Dolphin, the group's communications director. "There's been a tremendous amount of disinformation put out on marijuana over the last 20 years. Science is clear but official policy does not yet reflect it."

Baca's Washington D.C.-office released the following written statement Tuesday.

Baca "feels that all Americans should have access to lifesaving medicines. As a Member of Congress, a father, and grandfather, I will not send mixed messages to our law enforcement and to our nation's children about the use of marijuana. Marijuana has not proved medically necessary and can also be abused," the statement said.

Baca was one of four congressmen in California and Oregon targeted during the campaign for voting against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment to a federal bill in July that would have taken away funding of investigations or prosecutions of medical marijuana patients in 10 states with medical marijuana laws. The four congressmen were also selected for the campaign because patients in their districts have been prosecuted for using medical marijuana, Dolphin said.

Both drug enforcement officials and medical marijuana advocates claim science is on their side.

A 1999 Institute of Medicine report "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Bias" determined that marijuana's medical effects are generally modest and said there were more effective medicines on the market.

"For patients who do not respond well to other medications, however, short-term marijuana use appears to be suitable in treating conditions like chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, or the wasting caused by AIDS," said John Benson Jr., a principal investigator of the study, in a news release about the report.

Any use of marijuana is illegal under federal law, which classifies the drug as having no medicinal use.

California's Prop. 215, passed in 1996, legalizes the possession and cultivation of medical marijuana with a recommendation from a physician. A state Senate bill recently signed into state law, SB420, adds limitations to quantities of marijuana allowed for medical purposes and requires the state to establish and maintain a voluntary program issuing identification cards to qualified patients. The cards would establish procedures under which such patients may use marijuana for medical purposes.

According to a 2002 Time/CNN poll, 80 percent of those surveyed think it's OK to dispense pot for medical purposes.

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