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Legislation to move anti-medicinal pot funds turned back

May 27, 2003
By Steve Miller
The Washington Times

A House bill that would provide public funding for ad campaigns to fight medicinal-marijuana initiatives has been turned back because of language that could allow ads to become partisan attacks.

The Republican-sponsored legislation would also allow the movement of drug-enforcement money intended to fight the prevalence of drugs at the state and local level to the coffers of federal agents so they could better police the use of medicinal marijuana.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, would repeal a law that bars White House drug-policy director John Walters from using public funds for "partisan political purposes."

But Mr. Walters never requested the money, said Tom Riley, his spokesman.

"I think both of these provisions spring from the same source, and that is that many in Congress think that marijuana is not taken seriously enough," Mr. Riley said. "The fact is that we have never used ads for partisan purposes that we can already use state and local money if we need it."

The idea behind the provision, though, was merely an attempt to ensure that funding in place for the White House drug office was properly spent, said a spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee, where the bill landed.

"It was to make sure we have tighter control on whatever spending is done," said spokesman Dave Marin. "The money is not for briefing Hollywood scriptwriters on drug policy or for pencils for drug-free schools, as it has been used in the past."

Another portion of the bill would permit shifting a portion of $230 million in federal taxpayer money allocated to local jurisdictions in key regions back to federal coffers "to assist in enforcement of federal law ... where state law permits the use of marijuana in a manner inconsistent with the Controlled Substances Act," according to the bill.

Marijuana-legalization advocates see the provision that allows the federal government to take state and local money as an effort to punish states that pass medical-marijuana laws.

"What that means is that they can take [money] from these states fighting heroin and methamphetamine and give it to the feds to combat cannabis clubs that are helping sick people," said Steve Fox, legislative director with the Marijuana Policy Project. "They are saying that if state authorities aren't going after medical-marijuana patients, they will lose some of their money."

Voters in seven states Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada and Maine have passed referendums allowing the use of marijuana to help ill patients cope with the debilitating effects of cancer treatment, as well as to ease the pain of several other maladies, including multiple sclerosis and AIDS.

Two other state legislatures, in Hawaii and Maryland, have passed laws allowing marijuana to be used as a form of medical treatment. Marijuana opponents say voters and lawmakers in the states have been misled by pro-pot groups and that there is no medical use for smoking marijuana.

Federal law-enforcement agents, though, have overridden voters' wishes in several states and arrested people who sell the disputed medicine under federal laws, which trump state statutes. Marijuana, according to federal law, is as dangerous and destructive as heroin.

Copyright © 2003 News World Communications, Inc.