Bill to protect medicinal pot users falls short in House
Edward Epstein, Chronicle Washington Bureau Thursday, July 24, 2003
Washington -- A surprisingly strong bid to shield medicinal pot smokers in California and nine other states from federal prosecution was defeated in the House on Wednesday after a spirited debate that centered on states' rights and even reached back to the pre-Civil War "nullification" debate.
Proponents of the proposal by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, got 152 votes, compared to the 94 votes for medicinal marijuana in a 1998 House vote. But pot opponents still won handily, with 273 votes, down from 311 in 1998.
Hinchey-Rorhabacher supporters cited such recent federal actions as the successful prosecution of San Francisco medicinal pot grower Ed Rosenthal as the actions of an over-reaching Department of Justice.
"It is a travesty for the federal government to send agents into my state and throw people in a cage for doing something that people in my state say is legal," Rohrabacher, a self-described libertarian Republican, told the House as it debated the measure late Tuesday night.
He choked up as he told colleagues that he wished legal pot had been available when his mother was dying from cancer.
California voters easily passed Proposition 215 in 1996 by 56 percent to 44 percent to allow patients to get marijuana with a doctor's recommendation to treat the pain of such ailments as cancer, AIDS or glaucoma. Ever since, federal authorities have made it clear that they don't view the law as valid. Through such actions as Rosenthal's prosecution or the raid last year on a Santa Cruz pot farm, the Drug Enforcement Administration has thrown a damper on Prop. 215.
Similar federal efforts have occurred in the other nine medicinal pot states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
The Hinchey-Rohrabacher measure would have barred the Justice Department from challenging the state medicinal pot laws.
Opponents of the amendment to the Justice Department authorization bill say states don't have the right to unilaterally override a federal law.
"You can't have states passing laws to nullify some of the things we do here," said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. "If we want to change drug laws, you should come and change those laws."
Nullification is a constitutional theory, first championed in the 1830s by South Carolina's John C. Calhoun, that says a state can declare null and void any law passed by Congress that the state deems unacceptable. Southerners put the idea forward in the run-up to the Civil War.
"The implication is that the federal government does not have the right to legislate drug laws," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz. He reminded pot advocates that states' rights advocates had used that argument to oppose civil rights laws.
But Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, said that civil rights laws were about ending segregation laws that disadvantaged a large group of Americans. "Medical marijuana is an issue of states' rights that will not harm others," she said.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, said her constituents wanted to be left alone. "I represent Marin and Sonoma counties, just over the Golden Gate Bridge, and my colleagues will not be surprised, it is a very progressive area in our country, but they want their doctors to be permitted to prescribe marijuana for their patients suffering from debilitating diseases," she said. "And they believe that the federal government should get out of the way."
Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project said the growing support for medicinal pot "can be taken as a sign that this is an issue of compassion, not a sinister drug-legalization effort."
"The vote is clearly moving in our favor," he added.
But Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has a different view. "This is a cultural issue, " he said. "It's about taking the culture in the wrong direction. Medical marijuana laws send the wrong message to our youth."
Among California's 53 members, only two others among the 20 Republicans -- Mary Bono of Palm Springs and Bill Thomas of Bakersfield -- sided with Rohrabacher. Two of the 33 Democrats, Dennis Cardoza of Modesto and Joe Baca of San Bernardino, voted against the measure.
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, did not vote
I wonder how they'd react when they were told of the minute and a half conversation, the lie, and the illegal vote that criminalized marijuana in the first place, ruining millions of lives. What the hell. Heres verbatim the article that I read.
[Taken from the original article on the subject]
So I got stoned one day - heh, one day, heh heh - and wondered how in the hell did pot become illegal in the US anyways. I looked through several of the marijuana-dedicated sites I have bookmarked, and found not much. Just that there was a 1937 Marijuana Tax Act which made marijuana an illegal substance. But I wanted to know who brought it about and why pick on marijuana. After quite some time searching, I found 3 sites telling more of the story.
Part I: How Pot Became Illegal
The beginning of the illegalization of marijuana seems to begin in 1900, when 2-5 percent of all adults in the US were addicted to morphine. Medical use of morphine had been widespread for years, especially during the Civil War. In addition, the "cure-alls" sold in rural areas of the US near the turn of the century were later found out to be up to 50 percent morphine.
The first law passed to decrease drug addiction was the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. It created the Food and Drug Administration to test and approve food and medicines before they could be sold for human consumption. The PFDA also stipulated that some drugs could be sold only by prescription, and that a label was required on any potentially habit-forming drug saying "Warning -- May be habit forming." Although this law wasn't focused on any criminal aspect, it did more to reduce drug addiction than any law passed since.
The first law passed to criminalize non-medical use of drugs in the US was the Harrison Tax Act of 1914. It applied to "opium, morphine and its various derivatives, and the derivatives of the coca leaf like cocaine." The drafters wanted to regulate the medical use of those drugs, and to criminalize the non-medical use of the same drugs. They decided to charge doctors a small tax per year so they could prescribe the above drugs to patients. The other tax was of a rediculous amount, and was required to exchange those drugs without a prescription. The tax was more than the drugs were worth, so while doctors sent a measly tax every year, the rest of the population was forced to take a loss on every sale of the drugs, and possibly be jailed. Not jailed for possession, but tax evasion.
The law which made the use of marijuana itself illegal was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Before this, though, came the state marijuana laws, when between 1915-37, 27 states passed laws criminalizing marijuana. The reasons behind the laws in all 27 states broke down into three.
The first group of states to criminalize marijuana were the Rocky Mountain states - Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Montana. The numbers of Mexican immigrants to that region increased dramatically during this time. The Mexicans came there looking for a better life, and they brought marijuana with them. No one in the US knew much about marijuana at all, and didn't like the Mexicans much. One of the supporters for Texas' first marijuana law said exactly, on the Senate floor, "All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy." One of Montana's proponents said "Give one of these Mexican beet field workers a couple of puffs on a marijuana cigarette and he thinks he is in the bullring at Barcelona." The first laws passed in the US criminalizing marijuana were passed because of a hostility to the Mexicans, who happened to use marijuana.
The second group of states were in the Northeast. The reason for these laws is based on the fact that marijuana was completely unknown in that region, and they had only heard of it recently from the southern states. These states were afraid that marijuana would be used as a substitute drug for hard drug addicts (heroin, morphine, barbituates) and alcoholics to use instead of their regular drug. An editorial in the New York Times in 1919 stated "No one here in New York uses this drug marijuana. We have only just heard about it from down in the Southwest. We had better prohibit its use before it gets here. Otherwise all the heroin and hard narcotics addicts cut off from their drug by the Harrison Act and all the alcohol drinkers cut off from their drug by 1919 alcohol Prohibition will substitute this new and unknown drug marijuana for the drugs they used to use."
The third group consists of only one state - Utah. Think about it - Utah was started by the Mormons. It's kind of a long story, but I'll try to make it as short as possible (I've already gone on for probably too long...). In 1867, the US Supreme Court prohibited Mormons from practicing their religious belief of polygamy. Of course, this was never regulated since the police in Utah were Mormon also. However, in 1910, the Mormon Church proclaimed polygamy to be a religious mistake, banned it at a religious belief, and there was a crackdown. The more traditional Mormons, who still wanted to practice polygamy, went to Mexico in order to both practice polygamy and to convert "the heathens." That plan didn't work out too well, so eventually, many returned to Utah. Since they had found marijuana in Mexico, they brought it back with them, after 1914. Since the Mormon Church had always been against euphoriants, in 1915, the Mormon Church decreed marijuana contrary to the Mormon religion. Since things worked that way in Utah, the state legislature met a few months later and enacted each religious prohibition as a criminal offence in the state law.
Part Two: The Marijuana Tax Act to come.
Part II: The Marijuana Tax Act
So, after quite some time of doing nothing, I'm ready to continue. How Pot Became Illegal: Part I told the story of the criminalization of marijuana up through state laws. Part II will tell of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 - how it originated, and how it got passed. People tend to forget the fact that marijuana was not always illegal. In this era of illegal drugs, the War on Drugs, DARE, drug busts, etc, etc, etc, we've had drilled into our heads the "fact" that drugs are bad, mkay? It wasn't always this way. We have the New Deal to thank for all this misplaced and misled aggression about drugs and their legality. I take most of my information for Part II from Charles Whitebread's speech to the California Judges Association at their 1995 annual conference. It's a well-researched and well-written History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States.
In order to pass laws in the USA, Congress must hold hearings. These hearings can last for days and be huge. The hearings to decide whether or not to pass a law criminalizing marijuana, however, is comprised of three pieces of testimony, and it lasted for a whole two hours. The three pieces of testimony were from 1) Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930-62, 2) industrial spokesmen representing the industries that used marijuana and hemp in industrial production, and 3) two doctors who gave medical evidence on marijuana. That's it - no decades-long study, no months-long hearing - just two hours of testimony from a handful of pepole. Already, it sounds like the criminalization of marijuana did not come from hard evidence weighed carefully - it sounds more like something just thrown together and written into law. It gets worse.
Commissioner Anslinger's testimony was not even his own. It was written by a New Orleans District Attorney named Stanley. Ansligner/Stanley's stance seems to have been based on nothing. Ansligner said exactly "Marihuana [sic] is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death." That's it. So much for the Govenment's testimony.
Next came industry leaders who represented the rope, paint and varnish, and birdseed industries. Hemp was cultivated in order to make rope, the resins were used as a base for paints and varnishes, and the seeds were used in birdseed. So someone from each industry came forward and spoke. First up was the leader for the rope industry. He told about the process of making hemp into rope, Hemp was a great cash crop for rope-makers in the beginning of this country, but by 1820, it became cheaper to import rope from the Far East than to manufacture it in this country from hemp. By 1937, one can guess, there really was no need to grow hemp for rope production in the US. That was basically the rope industry's take on the situation. Next came the paint and varnish industry leaders. They basically said they could use something else. Woo-hoo. Great testimony. It turns out that the only people who had a problem with the criminalization of marijuana were the birdseed manufacturers. The leader asked to testify was asked "Couldn't you use some other seed?" He answered, "No, Congressman, we couldn't. We have never found another seed that makes a birds coat so lustrous or makes them sing so much." (Interestingly, as a side point, birdseed manufacturers got and still hold an exemption from the Marijuana Taxt Act - they can still sell marijuana seeds in their "denatured seeds". I don't think this would be a good way of getting your own plant-growing seeds though. They might grow, but I don't think they'd be that great to smoke.) So that was the testimony from industry leaders.
Last came two doctors with medical evidence about marijuana and its effects on people. First to testify was a pharmacologist from Temple University. He did a study where he "had injected the active ingredient in marihuana into the brains of 300 dogs, and two of those dogs had died." Two out of 300? That's .0067 percent. Basically a negligeable percentage. Even better is what comes next: the Congressman asked, "Doctor, did you choose dogs for the similarity of their reactions to that of humans?" The pharmacologist replied, "I wouldn't know, I am not a dog psychologist." Sounds like he knew his work well, eh? Even more interesting is the fact that the active ingredient in marijuana wasn't synthesized in a laboratory until after World War II, and in Holland. So whatever this pharmacologist gave to the dogs, it wasn't THC.
The other medical testimony was by Dr. William C. Woodward, Chief Counsel to the American Medical Association. His testimony was, "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug." True or not, the surprising thing happened next: a Congressman rebuked Dr. Woodward, saying, "Doctor, if you can't say something good about what we are trying to do, why don't you go home?" Another Congressman said, "Doctor, if you haven't got something better to say than that, we are sick of hearing you." Why in hell was the Chief Counsel to the AMA rebuked and basically treated as useless? The answer lies in the history of the New Deal and the AMA.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected by a huge landslide in 1936, and most of the Congressmen of that era were Democrats. Because of this, the New Deal proposals were largely passed without many dissenters. The AMA, however, had opposed every one of the New Deal proposals from 1932 through 1937, so the Congressmen were tired of hearing the AMA's negative reactions to every piece of legislature they tried to pass. Thus, the AMA Counsel's testimony followed suit with their testimony about every other New Deal proposal in the previous 5 years. The Congressmen were sick of hearing it, so they disregarded Dr. Woodward's testimony.
So, the hearings were over in a mere two hours, and the Marijuana Tax Act got sent to the floor of Congress. Presumably, the debate there would be better and include more evidence, right? It is Congress - they at least would look into things before signing a proposal into law, right? No. The debate in Congress was even shorter - ridiculously short, in fact. The entire debate lasted 1 minute and 32 seconds. One minute, thirty-two seconds of debate before the Marijuana Tax Act was signed into law. Tell me there's nothing wrong with that. The story of how this came to pass is also interesting.
The Marijuana Tax Act came to the floor of Congress at 5:45pm Friday, August 20, 1937. It was hot, a Friday, late, and Congress wasn't air-conditioned. So, there weren't many people around for the debate. Speaker Sam Rayburn called for the bill to be passed on "tellers". Tellers is basically what passes most laws in this country. There's little debate, no recorded vote, the law gets passed because a majority of people feel the law is good enough to be passed, or they don't care enough and pass it just to avoid lengthy debates. So the MTA was going to be passed for the hell of it when a Republican Congressman from New York asked two questions. His two questions were the entire debate on the national criminalization of marijuana. Here's the entire debate:
Congressman: "Mr. Speaker, what is this bill about?"
Speaker Rayburn: "I don't know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it's a narcotic of some kind."
Congressman: "Mr. Speaker, does the American Medical Association support this bill?"
Random supporter of the bill: "Their Doctor Wentworth came down here. They support this bill 100 percent."
This random supporter, who not only lied on the floor of Congress as to whether or not the AMA supported the bill, but ended the debate on the Marijuana Tax Act with a lie, went on to become a Supreme Court Justice. If that doesn't hint to you that the political and legal systems of this country are problematic, I don't know what does. If the circumstances under which the Marijuana Tax Act were passed don't tell you the law was a mistake, I don't know what could. Because of that supporter's statement, the Republicans sat down and passed the law on tellers. In addition, the Senate never held a debate on the Marijuana Tax Act at all. The bill went to Roosevelt, and he signed it into law. That's the law we're still stuck under today. That's the law by which every other drug (except for the drugs dealt with under the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Harrison Tax Act) has been declared illegal in times since. That's the law which started our War on Drugs, the seizure of personal freedoms in the USA, the overcrowding of jails and prisons, the crimes committed by drug users - and the law and its passage were completely ridiculous.
Tell me that the drug laws of this country don't need rethinking. Tell me that the drug laws of this country are based on extensive studies, true testimony, and well-debated laws. Tell me the War on Drugs is a good thing, it works, and it's well-founded. Tell me we need to incarcerate drug users. I'll tell you you're full of shit. The "problems" caused by drugs are caused instead by drug laws. Stupid, illogical laws passed the same way as the Marijuana Tax Act - without debate, without reason, without a thought as to whether or not the law is necessary or just something to further someone's wishes.
Edited by HarveyWalbanger (08/01/03 08:27 AM)