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Naked City

Weed Watch: Small Congressional Gains

By Jordan Smith, June 24, 2005, News

On June 15, the U.S. House of Representatives shot down a bipartisan measure that would ban the Department of Justice from using taxpayer money to arrest, jail, and prosecute medi-pot patients using marijuana in compliance with state law. The so-called Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which was attached to the DOJ appropriations bill, failed on a vote of 264-161. This is the third time the measure has been put before Congress, and though it has failed each time, the number of representatives voting in favor has continued to grow. This time around, 128 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted in favor of the measure – a gain of 17 Democratic votes and a loss of four Republican votes from 2004. Among the favorable votes were Texas Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Ron Paul, R-Surfside. Among the no votes were Texas Reps. Chet Edwards, D-College Station, Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, Kevin Brady, R-Conroe, and Joe Barton, R-Ennis. The House's only Independent, Bernard Sanders of Vermont, also voted in favor of the measure.

Speaking to his colleagues from the House floor, amendment co-sponsor Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, called it "unconscionable that we in Congress could possibly presume to tell a patient that he or she cannot use the only medication that has proven to combat the pain and symptoms associated with a devastating illness. How can we tell very sick people that they cannot have the drug that could save their lives simply because of a narrow ideology and bias against that drug in Congress?" Practically speaking, it appears that Hinchey's plea for compassion didn't sway any of the no-voters, led by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Indiana, head of the House drug policy subcommittee, who claims that medi-pot legalization is merely an effort to legalize pot for recreational use. Nonetheless, nationwide support for medi-pot continues to grow; in the latest Mason-Dixon poll, released June 14, 73% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans polled said that the federal government should not be prosecuting medi-pot patients.

In other weedy news, on June 23, Rep. Ron Paul officially introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which would free states from federal restrictions and allow for state regulation of hemp farming. Currently all hemp products sold in the U.S. are manufactured from raw hemp that has been imported (mainly from Canada, Europe, or China). Among the U.S. companies offering hemp products are Interface, the world's largest manufacturer of commercial carpet and carpet tiles; FlexForm Technologies, an Indiana-based company that makes natural fiber car carpeting; and Adidas USA, which has been selling hemp sneakers since 1995. So far 26 states have introduced hemp legislation and six – Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia – have passed legislation to legalize the practice. Those laws are currently dormant, however, since federal law requires the Drug Enforcement Administration to approve any and all hemp farming ventures – and so far the DEA has only issued a single hemp farming license, which has since expired, to growers in Hawaii.

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