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Lawmakers Rebuff White House in Drug Control Bill Fri June 6, 2003 10:45 AM ET By Todd Zwillich WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Lawmakers approved national drug control legislation Thursday after stripping out provisions allowing the White House to use federal dollars to campaign in the media against efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.
The House Committee on Government Reform voted to approve the strategy by a near-unanimous vote, a week after a disagreement over how to use the national $1 billion in anti-drug media campaign funds delayed its consideration.
The bill originally contained language allowing the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to buy anti-medical marijuana advertisements with money from the national youth anti-drug media campaign.
White House officials and many Republican lawmakers supported the language as a way to aid ONDCP director Jon P. Walters in his ongoing campaign against state referenda and laws permitting marijuana distribution or use for some medical patients. But Democrats objected to the provision, arguing that it would allow the White House to use taxpayer money to wage partisan campaigns against candidates or initiatives it did not agree with.
Congress currently plans to spend some $200 million per year on youth-targeted anti-drug ads over the next five years.
Lawmakers also struck a provision that would have allowed the White House to deny some federal drug enforcement aid in jurisdictions that have supported medical marijuana initiatives.
"There was a strong consensus among members that drug control should not be a partisan issue," said Rep. Mark E. Souder, R-Ind., who helped craft the compromise with Democrats.
Nine states currently permit marijuana use for patients with a doctor's prescription or have relaxed penalties for possession of the drug.
Walters has aggressively campaigned against the initiatives, saying that they threaten to undermine federal drug laws against marijuana distribution and use. His opposition stoked challenges from marijuana activists, who filed lawsuits accusing him of breaking federal laws that ban administration officials from participating in state political campaigns.
The federal Office of Special Counsel ruled earlier this week in Walters' favor in the case, essentially clearing the way for him and other drug control officials to continue campaigning against medical marijuana efforts.
Kevin Sabet, an ONDCP spokesman, said that the removal of permission to use media campaign money against medical marijuana would not slow Walters' efforts. "We don't need the media campaign to fight legalizations," he said.
"The victory for (the White House) is that they have another billion in taxpayer money to waste," said Steve Fox, a lobbyist for Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-medical marijuana group.