- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Medical marijuana advocates announced a push yesterday to try to compel the federal government not to interfere with the 10 states that have medical marijuana laws on the books.

Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, has introduced a bill that would exempt doctors and pharmacists in those states from prosecution under federal drug laws, which allow the government to pursue marijuana suppliers even if states allow doctors to prescribe the substance as pain medication.

In announcing the bill, Mr. Frank was joined by television talk show host Montel Williams, who uses marijuana and says it is the only thing that has eased his suffering from multiple sclerosis.

“I’m hurting,” Mr. Williams told reporters. “Why? Because I knew I had to come to Washington, D.C., and I couldn’t carry anything. I’d get busted.”

Mr. Frank’s bill, which made little progress in past Congresses, has gained bipartisan support.

“The federal government should butt out,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican.

Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, said he wanted to go beyond protection in 10 states. “The only problem with this bill is it’s so modest,” he said.

Mr. Paul said he has survived primary and general election races in which interest groups spent a total of $2 million to try to defeat him based primarily on his position on drug policy. He said his wins in those races in a conservative, Bible Belt district should sway other members of Congress who agree with him, but vote differently out of fear of political ramifications.

“I hope my example is such that maybe they’ll reconsider that and vote the right way,” he said.

For the bill to be considered on the House floor, it first must get past Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources.

“Marijuana is not medicine,” Mr. Souder said last year in introducing a bill calling on the Food and Drug Administration to disseminate information about the health and safety of smoking marijuana to those who advocate its use for health reasons.

“Patients who are smoking marijuana are being denied legitimate care that could improve rather than worsen their medical conditions,” Mr. Souder said.

Medical marijuana supporters want to try to work around Mr. Souder and his subcommittee.

Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, New York Democrat, promised to offer an amendment to one of this year’s spending bills to prohibit the Justice Department from interfering with doctors who deem marijuana the proper course of medical treatment.

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