Feature: Minor Gains in Bid to Get Congress to Block Federal Raids on Medical Marijuana Patients, Providers

The House of Representatives Wednesday night voted down the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment to the Justice-Commerce-Science appropriations bill. The amendment would have barred the Justice Department from using federal funds to target medical marijuana patients and providers in the 12 states where it is currently legal.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey addresses 2005 medical marijuana press conference as Montel Williams awaits his turn at the podium
The vote came only hours after DEA agents upped the ante in its battle against medical marijuana in California by raiding 10 dispensaries in the Los Angeles area. And it came only a few days after the DEA opened a new battlefront in its war by sending letters to dispensary landlords threatening them with seizure of their properties or even criminal charges if they continue to rent to dispensaries. (See feature story this issue here).

The vote also came after spirited debate on the House floor. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) related an emotional story about a close friend, a Navy SEAL, who died of pancreatic cancer, but used medical marijuana in his final months to ease his suffering. (Rep. Cohen distributed an email Thursday linking to a YouTube copy of his speech.)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a cosponsor of the amendment, hit a similar note talking about the cancer deaths of his mother and brother. "If marijuana would have helped them, it would have been a horrible thing to think that federal agents would have come in and interfered with that, if their doctor had recommended it," he said.

But Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) said medical marijuana was no more than a stalking horse for potheads. "Most people who want to use it want to get high," he said. Weldon also made the false and outrageous claim that marijuana "does cause cancer. I've seen it."

Rep. David McNerney (D-CA), a freshman member and the only member of the Bay Area congressional delegation to vote against the measure linked medical marijuana to the broader war on 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 after the vote. "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."

Freshmen Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) spoke in support of the amendment.
"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 the United States,'' said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ).

The vote was 165-262, the largest "yes" vote in the five years the amendment has been offered. One hundred fifty Democrats and 15 Republicans voted for the measure, while 79 Democrats and 183 Republicans voted against it.

While supporters did not expect to win this year, they had hoped to gain 15 or 20 votes over last year's 164 "yes" votes. Instead, the gained was a disappointing two.

The amendment's cosponsor, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), while disappointed in his colleagues, said he was "encouraged" by the vote. "It is unconscionable to me that the federal government would seek to not only deny, but arrest and prosecute, medical marijuana patients who are using the drug in accordance with state law to relieve pain and nausea associated with debilitating illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis," Hinchey said shortly after the vote. "What we tried to do on the House floor tonight was protect those patients and their doctors from unfair and inhumane efforts by the federal government to deny them the medicine they need. I am pleased that the medical marijuana amendment received a record level of support in the House and will help build upon this new level of support next year."

"We continue to make progress, but we are disappointed that with the DEA terrorizing California patients even as the House debated, Congress chose not to act," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "New studies continue to demonstrate marijuana's medical benefits, and public support is overwhelming, but many in Congress seem not to care how many patients suffer."

Opinion polls typically put nationwide support for medical marijuana in the 70% to 80% range.

With the number of "yes" votes nearly static, some drug reformers frustrated by the disconnect between Congress and public opinion on the issue are wondering if there isn't a better way. "I don't know that trying to shut off funding to law enforcement is the correct approach," said Dale Gieringer, who, as head of California NORML, is directly in the cross-fire, or at least the neighborhood. "If we want to change the medical marijuana law, we should change the law. But what I'm hearing from Congress is that members are waiting for a new administration to show some leadership."

"We're going to be doing some serious thinking about what we do next," said Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications. "We really thought we would do better. Although the public supports this, many members of Congress treat it as if it were radioactive," he said.

"The question is: Is this the right legislative vehicle? If so, there's something we're missing," Mirken mused. "Is there a more effective way to educate members about how people in their districts feel? Is there a way of turning up the heat on Congress? We have lots of questions, but we can't pretend we have the answers at this point."

For Al Byrne, spokesman for the medical marijuana group Patients Out of Time, the answer is "yes," there is a more effective way, and that's for the activists to step aside and let the medical community take the lead. "Until this body of reform organizations can regroup and understand that it is our collective behavior as well as that of our opponents that influences politicians and the media, we will not make significant progress," he argued. "Send LEAP, MPP, DPA, and NORML out again to represent a medical issue and all we'll get is more of the same from Congress and the media. We need to elevate the discussion by letting the doctors and nurses who actually know what they're talking about speak. Then we may find a different outcome," he said.

"We definitely need more doctors and scientists educating people," said DPA director of national affairs and Washington lobbyist Bill Piper. "Clearly, some members and their staffs need to be educated, but there are a lot who are sympathetic, but afraid, so it's not just a matter of education, it's also about changing the political culture in a 'tough on crime' town. What we need is a multi-pronged approach combining education, lobbying, and grassroots work."

This year, amendment supporters started out in a hole, Piper said. "We lost about a dozen members who voted for it last year, but are no longer in office," he noted. "There are also two liberal districts with vacancies, and Nancy Pelosi didn't vote as Speaker of the House, so we started out down 15. What was surprising and disappointing is that this year we lost nine Democrats who voted for it last year."

The congressional class of 2006, the so-called New Democrats, were also a disappointment, Piper said. "We only got half of them. Many of them are from districts that were previously Republican, and that may have had them running scared," he said.

Still, said Piper, rethinking the utility of Hinchey is worth doing. "We've gained 20 votes in five years and we don't really want to wait another five years," he said. "Ultimately, the long-term objective is to change the law. It is worth rethinking what we're doing, but ultimately, a bill isn't going to go anywhere without political support."

That's right, said Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for national NORML. "I understand people's frustration that this continues to fall well short of passage," he said. "But I also realize that if the members of Congress are unwilling to take this baby step, they are unlikely to support even more far-reaching measures. This vote shows that Congress is still cowardly on these issues; to think it would be ripe for broader drug reform seems almost like wishful thinking."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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medical marijuana

i have severe joint problems. and not able to work. i'am total'ey disable. and my wife is allso disable. she recives ssi disability. she has insurance. if i apply for my disablity
then i will make to much money. and they will cut her check and insurance out.
she only recives $619.00 per mo. i dont recive anything. i was going through pain management. while i was still able to work. but now i have nothing for pain.
what would it hurt for the goverment to help the poor and disable.and let us have something for pain. they blow up are money in space and in war.. they distroy a place
and spend billions of dollars repairing it. i have never seen a person on marijuana rob someone. are even be in a rage.i went to the emergency room last week. because of pain. because i diden't have insurance. they woulden't xray my neck. the doctor gave me. some hydrocodone. a whole total of 12 pills. they were low dose #5. all of the disc
are spured in my neck and back. touching my spine. i can't do anything about it.
nothing i can do to stop the pain. in my back neck arms shoulders hands legs and feet.
i don't do any drugs. because it ise'nt leagle. and it would really be bad for me in jail.
i guess the goverment just want's us to die. i guess i would be beter off dead. there is nothing like this pain. if one of the law makers could have the pain i have for one day.
and no insurance. he would smoke some. i promise you that.

How many Alcohol Abusers voted

Question -- how many of these House Members who oppose science-based marijuana legislation and "potheads" have three or more alcoholic beverages at a sitting three or more times per week? Alcoholics attacking marijuana are, after all, named "Hypocrite."

Jay Hurst


Let us not forget the king of Hypocrites, George W. Bush - Recovering alcoholic and former drug user. And hadn't Dick Cheyenne consumed alcohol prior to his infamous "hunting accident"?

Marijuana is a harmless substance which can be used to treat a wide spectrum of ailments, including loss of appetite, nausea, insomnia, chronic pain, depression and anxiety. This is why the Federal Government is struggling to prevent the use and distribution of cannabis. They are protecting the interests of the pharmaceutical companies who make billions of dollars each year by continuing to supply obscenely priced, addictive, often dangerous drugs to the sick, elderly and dying citizens of this country. God Help America.

Medical marijuana and congress

My congressman voted against the amendment, he represents a constituency in one of the states where medical marijuana has been made legal. He wrote to me, last year, in response to an email I sent him, that he supports medical use of marijuana, and yet he voted against the amendment. I sent him a message letting him know that I was spreading word of his betrayal of his constituents throughout his district, I even wrote a letter to the editor. Hopefully, he will not be elected again to his position in federal government; if I have anything to say about it, his political career will be over.

I hope everyone whose congressperson voted no on this issue does the same thing. If they feel the righteous wrath of their constituents, perhaps next year's vote will hae a different outcome. And if your congressperson voted yes, write them and thank them for being reasonable, praise is as important when they do the right thing as censure is when they get it wrong.

Getting Down to Principles

We keep getting caught-up in the details, but we need to get the principles of FREEDOM & ACCOUNTABILITY out there and agreed upon by Republicans, Democrats, Corporations, and Citizens.

We need a simple bill or petition that states the following...

1) Adults should be able to do whatever they want, so long as they don't harm others

2) If others are harmed, contributing factors and causation should be determined.
Data from individual cases should be aggregated to determine primary causes/factors of human-induced harm.

3) The best information (from the most expert sources) should be used to make (policy & individual) decisions to prevent harm.
I think that the data will show that nurturing healthy individuals, families, and communities, and facilitating access to quality information, education, and opportunities is the best way to prevent harmful crimes and violence.

4) The degree of harm inflicted (or potential for harm inflicted) should form the basis of attempting to regulate individual/group behavior and access to specific goods/services.
Many products and services that are currently illegal cause less harm or have the potential to cause less harm than some legal products. For example, the following all have greated potential for harm than selling or smoking marijuana: bleach, knives, guns, motorcycles, violent games/movies, plastic surgery, alcohol, and tobacco.

5) Positive results and behavior must be cultivated.
Each human has the potential for constructive and destructive behavior. In order to avoid the negative aspects of human nature and society, we must engage each individual and nuture their hope, interests, and passion.

As you can see, these principles don't only apply to drug policy reform, but to all policy, including addressing violent crimes, sentencing guidelines, and health care reform.

Our Budget priorities should reflect these priciples of freedom, and accountability.

"use" is not synonymous with "abuse"

Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen needs to get his facts straight. Not only regarding "use" v. "abuse," but i believe the most widely ABUSED drug in the united states is alcohol, not marijuana.

I think you're going to have

I think you're going to have to give something to get something. The measure has to be tied to something else, or take in something else, to pass. But I still think it hardly pays to devote a lot of effort to something like this that can be expected to take so much time that it's overtaken by events. Specifically, I still think it's likely that Sativex and its like will be marketed before much is accomplished on smokable med mj.

Sativex and Marinol

The problem with these medication is the markup! All new formulations are running in the hundreds of dollars per month, up to thousands/mo!!! They will be making big pharma rich that way! OH! But, they are public companies. It is their stockholders, making the profits!

Can't patent cannabanoids,yet!



borden's picture

thanks -- you've been reprinted

Thanks for posting this. I've excerpted from it in our blog.

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

medical marijuana

I hope this does not end up with two posts. My last did not show up.

I contacted the representative, from the area of the country, where I now reside.(see response)

I mentioned that with no research, doctors only had anecdotal evidence to rely on. The problem being that the DEA is preventing any research. I read that he is a conservative Christian lawyer who went into politics after graduating law school. He proved to be very uneducated when it comes to the medicinal use of marijuana. But then, what would a conservative Christian doctor expect! Politicians telling DOCTORS how to treat patients. We don't need doctors any more, just committees to control medical care!

In his letter, he quotes the lack of research (DUH). But, if I remember correctly, it was approved for the use in glaucoma, years ago. Do not, a few people, still, receive it through a government program? I found his reply wanting for any educated conversation. I guess he has not heard about the active ingredient, in Marinol, which saves lives, in people unable to eat, for one reason or another. (it saved one of my patients from his death-bed!) This blatant ignorance might be a disguise for someone wanting to stick his head in the sand.

And how can a drug in a pill form be medicine, yet its natural, weaker form, in a plant, is "an illicit drug" Because the politicians decide which drug is illicit and which is not. It is not a medical decision. But, he and many other politicians are making a medical decision in his inability to let researchers study it and document the results! I said nothing about legalizing marijuana. Is it not the chemical component that is supposed to be illegal. This is really a pretty typical SNAFU by the government and their progressive thinkers! ( THC, already, is legal with Marinol! ) What hypocrites! His response, also, points out the fact that he believes that the government is big brother and has a God-like control over the states! Not real hard to read where he is coming from!

This is his response:
Dear Dr. Langley:

Thank you for contacting me about medical marijuana . It was good to hear from you.

I have not seen reliable scientific d ata to support the claim that the medical use of marijuana will improve the overall condition of a patient. It is for this reason that I do not anticipate supporting federal legislation to legalize medical marijuana . I do not support the federal government giving states the ability to authoriz e medicinal use of any illicit drug, nor do I support legalizing marijuana. I am sorry to learn that we disagree on this issue; it is my hope that we can find other matters on which we do agree.

Again, thank you for contacting me. It is an honor to serve in the United States House of Representatives, and to have the benefit of your advice. If you would like to receive updates on this or any other issue, please visit my website at (site removed by me)


David Dunn's picture

Medical Cannabis and Healthcare Costs

The same day the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment was defeated (7/26/07), news analysts discussed the cost of medical services that are rising into the trillions of dollars. One analyst said that the fourth thing that must be allowed is for people to take a more active role in their own healthcare.

Yet when people try to do so by using cannabis medically, congressional Negative Nannies and Nay Sayers said "No!"

Isn't it time for Congress to say, "If we're going to have affordable universal health care, isn't it imperative that the people be allowed to use medical cannabis in order to play an active role in their own health?"

If Congress is uncomfortable with relying on research from other countries, historical and anecdotal evidence as to the efficacy of medical cannabis, doesn't it behoove Congress to allow American universities to grow, research and test their own cannabis products?

Too, shouldn't Congress be interested in human cannabinoid receptors and the role the cannabis plant's cannabinoids play with those cannabinoid receptors?

Can cannabinoids significantly impact cannabinoid receptors so as to materially reduce the cost of universal health care?

Instead, Congressional Nay Sayers groveled to the dictates of their despotic and autocratic drug czar whom they have accorded an unconstitutional title of nobility (Section 9, Clause 8).

In Federalist 45, the cannabis-inspired James Madison wrote that if "the sovereignty of the States cannot be reconciled to the happiness of the people" then let the sovereignty of the States be sacrificed to the happiness of the people. Isn't health an integral part of happiness?

The people of California voted to allow medical cannabis in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, "We the people…" Other State legislatures, exercising their Constitutional sovereignty with the Congress, have approved the use of medical cannabis. All this for the health and "happiness of the people."

According to the cannabis-inspired Madison, the Constitution requires that the Congress' heavy-handed and despotic drug laws be sacrificed to the health and happiness of the people.

When is the Congress going to heed the Constitution, and put the health and happiness of the people ahead of the misinformed whims of their despotic and autocratic drug czar?

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

— Thomas Jefferson

medical marijuana...

They will never learn that they cannot legislate health, morality nor fear; all the laws in the country will not fix a problem that is not a problem, but a personal choice issue.
We must get out and vote. Until we use the power in that right, we will get the government they want.
I refuse to accept prescriptions for most drugs that are offered because pot does it and I am sure of the side effects.
I print out my findings and present them to my doctor; he very often never heard of the research I bring him.
As for these recent raids in California, who signed those warrants? Didn't he (she) break the law?

Let's Take Back Our Country

I have a solution to this endless war on drugs. Do what I'm doing get your medical marijuana card, but don't grow pot. Grow something else like Lettuce or Morning Glory plants under your lights. Stop spending your hard earned money on supporting drug inforcers. Smoke marijuana only when it becomes unbearable. Let's show "THEM" what we can do when push comes to shove. We have to suffer alittle, or even alot as in my case to take back our rights. I have put alot of people at risk in endeavors. I know that the Feds were watching me when I got my card here in Kenai Alaska, but I let my friends know so they could run if they wanted. After I got my card my friends stopped selling or sharing their marijuana to me because they wanted to have the nice easy life of making money on a weed that every adult should have legally. Shortly after I got my card almost everyone in my community got busted. Some times there is a price to pay. Countless greedy marijuana dealers that didn't care about other's medical conditions got busted. Needless to say there are lots of marijuana smokers laying in their bedrooms with "headaches". It's taken alot of my energy to make this difference. I pray that people will read this and continue the movement. The weeks I have no Medical Marijuana is torture and I wish at times the torturers would put me out of my misery. Please, stand up and push back! The war is endless until we fight back. I will fight until my last breath to fight for our adult freedoms in the "Land Of The Free And The Home Of The Brave. BRING IT ON...........

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