Press Release  | 07/23/2003

152 U.S. Representatives Vote to Stop Bush Administration

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Amendment Would Have Blocked Further DEA Interference
First Federal Vote on Issue: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich Among Supporters

For the first time since armed DEA agents began making controversial raids and arrests of medical marijuana patients and caregivers, Members of the House of Representatives voted on an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have prevented this from happening again. Although the bipartisan amendment, introduced by Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) failed, 152 to 273, the level of Congressional support for medical marijuana was the greatest ever, and supporters say it shows federal reform is just a matter of time.

"Never before have so many Members of Congress stood up against the federal government's war on medical marijuana," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The extraordinary public support of sick people's right to their medicine has finally penetrated the walls of Congress."

National polls show that over 70% of Republican, Democrat and Independent voters support allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to terminally ill and chronic pain patients. As many as two-thirds of voters say they prefer candidates that support medical marijuana over those that don't.

Earlier this year the California legislature passed a resolution urging Congress to pass federal legislation securing a state's right to regulate medical marijuana, allowing individual patients to possess and consume medical marijuana, and allowing individuals deputized by states and localities to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana appropriately. With the Drug Policy Alliance's legal help, the city and county of Santa Cruz, California, has taken the extraordinary step of suing the federal government arguing that the federal government does not have the constitutional authority to interfere with state efforts to give terminally ill and chronic pain patients access to physician-recommended medical marijuana that is cultivated by the patients and their caregivers.

Speaking in favor of the amendment were Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), Rep. Hinchey (D-NY), Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Kucinich (D-OH), Rep. Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Rep. Rohrabacher (R-Ca), and Rep. Woolsey (D-CA). Speaking against the amendment were Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Souder (R-IN), Rep. Shadeg (R-AZ), Rep. Mica (R-FL),and Rep. Burgess (R-TX). Members of Congress debated the medical marijuana amendment for an hour.

Two in three House Democrats voted for the amendment including, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Presidential Candidate, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). Approximately 90% of Republicans voted against it.

"A 2002 poll showed that about 75% of Democrats and nearly 60% of Republicans have said they would support Members of Congress who vote in favor of medical marijuana," said Nadelmann. "Today's vote shows that Democrats in Congress are finally reflecting the views of their constituents. It's only a matter of time before Republicans do so too."

The amendment to the Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations bill would have prevented the DEA from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws. Ten states - Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- have adopted medical marijuana laws since 1996, representing over 20% of the U.S. population. Advocates of the amendment noted that Members of Congress who represent districts in these states and opposed the medical marijuana amendment may be especially vulnerable in statewide campaigns. They pointed in particular to Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) who is currently financing a recall against California Governor Gray Davis and plans to run for governor. Advocates said that they would make voting records available to all citizens.

Numerous scientific studies have found that marijuana can have medical benefits for AIDS, cancer and other patients. A 1999 Institute of Medicine study funded by the federal government found that nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety "all can be mitigated by marijuana."

Allowing patients legal access to medical marijuana has been endorsed by numerous organizations, including the AIDS Action Council, American Bar Association, American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, National Association of Attorneys General, and California Medical Association. Many countries around the world are allowing marijuana for medical use, including England and Canada.

Despite increasing support for medical marijuana, the DEA has been relentlessly raiding medical marijuana cooperatives, especially in California. In October 2001, for example, DEA agents raided and closed the West Hollywood-based Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, a non-profit co-op that provided marijuana to about 1,000 AIDS, cancer, and other patients. The co-op was legal under state law and operated with the full support of local elected officials and law-enforcement officers. The City of West Hollywood even co-signed the mortgage for the co-op's building. The West Hollywood Sheriff's Station refused to cooperate with the DEA raid. Federal agents seized marijuana plants, business documents, bank accounts, and about 3,000 confidential medical records.

In February 2002, on the same day that Attorney General John Ashcroft asked law-enforcement agencies to be on the highest possible alert for impending terrorist attacks, dozens of DEA agents raided and closed a medical marijuana co-op in San Francisco and made a number of related arrests around the state.

Transcript of last night's floor debate

Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961 or Ariel Kalishman at 212-613-8036

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