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House GOP Targets Medical Marijuana States

Wed May 21, 6:28 PM ET
By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - House Republicans are pressing for legislation that would strip federal anti-drug money from local police in states that have passed medical marijuana laws.

The overall legislation, which would keep the White House drug policy office in business for another five years, would also allow the office to run ads opposing medical marijuana initiatives.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said both provisions were initiated in Congress, but they clearly reflect the Bush administration's strong desire to strictly enforce marijuana laws. Federal law does not permit legalization for medical use, although eight states allow it.

Tom Riley, spokesman for White House drug policy director John Walters, said: "One of the duties of the drug czar is to oppose efforts to legalize drugs. There's a concern in Congress that marijuana is more harmful than most people perceive. They want to make sure this agency keeps a focus on that."

Walters has traveled the country to speak out against easing marijuana laws, but Riley said there were no issue-oriented ads planned. However, he added, "We want as much flexibility as possible."

The House Government Reform Committee (news - web sites) was expected to approve the legislation Thursday, with an amendment prohibiting ads expressly advocating support or defeat of a candidate or ballot question.

Groups opposed to strict criminal enforcement of marijuana laws said more than $11 million could be eliminated from state and local police budgets in "high-intensity" drug trafficking areas. The money would go to federal law enforcement officers on the grounds that local police would not be able to enforce marijuana laws.

The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder (news, bio, voting record), R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform criminal justice subcommittee. His staff director, Chris Donesa, said the switch is needed because the federal government would take on an added burden, but emphasized the money would be used in the same high-intensity areas.

Donesa added that local and federal officers work together in those areas anyway, so there would be little practical effect.

Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project said his group was especially concerned about the possibility of huge advertising expenditures by the White House in an attempt to influence elections.

"This leaves them free to run ads saying medicinal marijuana is a lie and a ploy to legalize marijuana for all purposes," he said.

Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance called the potential issue advertising "a shell game. It would take money from taxpayers and most taxpayers will see through it."

Piper said the reallocation of money to federal officers would move the focus from heroin and cocaine trafficking to enforcement against medical marijuana patients.

The states with medical marijuana laws are Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada and Maine.

Voters last November defeated a Nevada measure to legalize possession of up to three ounces of marijuana; an Arizona initiative that would have made pot possession equivalent to a traffic violation; and a South Dakota initiative that would have legalized hemp farms.