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Marijuana Policy Project called McNerney’s vote “appalling.”

By Hempology | July 28, 2007

San Francisco Chronicle, CA
27 Jul 2007
Edward Epstein


Freshmen Dems Blamed in Defeat of Plan to Stop Feds

Washington — Backers of a proposal that would have blocked federal authorities from interfering in state-approved medicinal marijuana programs, stung by a disappointing defeat in the House, are zeroing in on freshmen Democrats such as Rep.  Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton who opposed the proposal.

The proposal, which advocates have introduced for several years, would have barred the Drug Enforcement Administration from stopping the medicinal use of marijuana in the 12 states including California where voters or the legislature have moved to legalize such pot use.

But the House voted 262-165 to defeat the bipartisan amendment offered by Reps.  Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach ( Orange County ). 

The medicinal pot forces, who cite public opinion polls and votes of the public in California, among other states, as they lobby lawmakers, were particularly angry that freshman Democrats, including McNerney, voted late Wednesday against the proposal, which was an amendment to the annual Justice Department spending bill.

Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project called McNerney’s vote “appalling.”

“How can anyone call themselves a progressive, which he regularly does, and then vote to send AIDS and cancer patients to jail after voters in his own state voted to help them instead?” Mirken asked.  “People who support him need to ask him some questions.”

Last year, the Hinchey-Rohrabacher proposal won 163 votes.  But medical marijuana backers expected more support in a House now controlled by Democrats, and with a freshman Democratic class of 42 members.

McNerney, who alone among the Bay Area’s all-Democratic House delegation voted against the measure, tied marijuana use to other illegal drugs.

“We are facing a drug crisis with meth and other drug use on the rise.  Until we get a handle on the crippling drug use in our society, I cannot support the relaxation of current drug policy,” McNerney said in a statement.

“I have spoken to many law enforcement officials concerned about the effect of drug use on our communities, particularly in San Joaquin County.  The problem is real.  Just yesterday, Stockton police announced a successful illegal drug sweep — in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies — that led to 51 arrests and the seizure of over 12 pounds of illegal substances,” he said.

McNerney was elected in November, defeating the Bay Area’s lone House Republican, Rep.  Richard Pombo of Tracy.

Hinchey admitted he was disappointed in the latest vote.

“I thought we’d break 180 votes.  In fact, my goal was 185 votes,” Hinchey said.  “I’m disappointed, but not disappointed enough to stop.”

But Mirken, whose group had increased lobbying efforts this year to boost the amendment’s vote count, said it is time for medicinal marijuana backers to reconsider their strategy.  He said there is a disconnect between polls that show widespread support for the rights of doctors to recommend marijuana for patients and a lack of support in Congress.

“We will sit down and look at this very hard,” he said.

There appears to be no alternative to getting Congress to block enforcement of federal law criminalizing marijuana.  In 2005, the U.S.  Supreme Court ruled that changes to the law were up to Congress, not the states.

The amendment’s opponents said allowing states to give patients access to pot is dangerous.

“Not only does this amendment hurt law enforcement’s efforts to combat drug trafficking, but it sends the wrong message.  Marijuana is the most widely abused drug in he United States,” said Rep.  Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.

In the end, 150 Democrats voted for the amendment, with 79 opposed.  Fifteen Republicans voted yes; 183 opposed it.

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