House Opposes Effort to Allow Pot for Ill

July 06, 2004

Alan Fram, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The House voted Wednesday to let the federal government continue prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical reasons in states where local law allows its use by patients. The 268-148 vote turned aside an amendment by Democrats and some conservative Republicans that would have barred the federal government from preventing states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws. Nine states have passed laws allowing people to use marijuana if recommended by a doctor: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. 

'It won't encourage the use of marijuana,' Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., one of the sponsors, said of the amendment. 'It won't encourage drug use in children. It won't legalize any drugs.'

Supporters of the federal restrictions said that constitutionally, federal statutes must override state laws. They also argued that medical marijuana laws only encourage the abuse of marijuana and other drugs.

The amendment would hurt by 'sending the message to young people that there can be health benefits by smoking marijuana,' said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

The Bush administration has supported the strong enforcement of anti-marijuana laws. Wednesday's defeat of the amendment by the GOP-run House, just four months from Election Day, came as little surprise.

Last July, the House overwhelmingly rejected a similar move by opponents of federal curbs over state marijuana laws.

Some patients being treated for cancer and other diseases say marijuana helps ease chronic pain and other problems.

'The Justice Department is working overtime to put sick people and those who would help them in jail,' said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

But opponents of marijuana use said more is involved. Rep. Max Burns, R-Ga., said the defeated proposal was 'simply the first step in a scheme to overturn all the substance abuse laws.'

The Supreme Court said last month that it will decide whether the federal government can prosecute patients who use marijuana following a doctor's advice.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the federal law outlawing marijuana should not apply to people using the drug on a doctor's recommendation. The Bush administration appealed that decision -- which only covers the western states in the 9th Circuit -- saying federal anti-drug laws supersede state laws.

The amendment was offered to a bill providing $39.8 billion next year for the departments of Justice, State and Commerce. The Senate has yet to write its version of the legislation.

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