Civility in Congress update

Ian Murray seamus2001 at
Tue Mar 27 17:30:08 PST 2001

Tuesday March 27 7:52 PM ET Marijuana Sparring Before Hearing

By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer -

WASHINGTON (AP) - A day before the Supreme Court was to hear arguments on the issue, Republican lawmakers sparred on Tuesday with the leader of a group advocating the medical use of marijuana.

``What's really going on here is people are trying to legalize smoking marijuana and they're using cancer and AIDS (news - web sites) patients as a prop,'' said Rep. Dave Weldon (news - bio - voting record), R-Fla., at a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee (news - web sites)'s criminal justice subcommittee.

Rob Kampia, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said his organization ``believes that sick people as well as healthy people should not be put in jail for using marijuana.

``But if we can keep sick people out of jail in the short run, then by God we're going to do it,'' he said.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday on whether marijuana can be provided to patients out of ``medical necessity'' even though federal law makes its distribution a crime.

At least eight states have medical-marijuana laws in place or approved by voters: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado.

Subcommittee Republicans were candid about their dislike of medical marijuana advocates, represented at the hearing by Kampia.

``This is really an effort by the druggies to legalize marijuana,'' said Rep. Bob Barr (news - bio - voting record), R-Ga.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (news - bio - voting record), D-Md., who was the only Democrat in the room for most of the hearing, urged lawmakers to be civil and said he respected all the witnesses for agreeing to show up and present their views.

``I don't respect Mr. Kampia,'' Barr said. ``You're not a wonderful person. You're doing something despicable, and you're putting a nice face on it.''

Kampia retorted: ``I'll be cordial with Congressman Barr, but I don't respect him either because he's supportive of a policy that criminalizes seriously ill people who have their doctors' approval to use what is a legitimate medicine.''

Subcommittee chairman Mark Souder, R-Ind., urged civility from all participants but added to Kampia: ``You are an articulate advocate for an evil position.''

The conflict between the state and federal laws is causing problems between law enforcement officials, said Laura Nagel, the deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Diversion Control at the Drug Enforcement Administration.

``For example, local officers assigned to a federally funded task force might find themselves in the situation of having to seize marijuana in order to enforce federal law, knowing that the local prosecutor will refuse to prosecute or the local judge will order the marijuana returned to the grower,'' she said.

``In essence, allowing traffickers to carry on with impunity in this manner simply undercuts enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act,'' Nagel added.

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