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Republicans, White House unite to fight new drug laws

graphic December 2, 1996
Web posted at: 6:15 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Carl Rochelle

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republicans in Congress are teaming with the Clinton administration in an effort to stop attempts to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings Monday on two such initiatives passed recently in Arizona and California. The Arizona law allows doctors to prescribe a variety of controlled substances, including marijuana, LSD and heroin.

Supporters say the new laws will ease the pain of some cancer and glaucoma patients. Opponents say legalization sends the wrong message.


"The medical, scientific process is open to any drug. That includes marijuana," drug policy chief Barry McCaffrey told CNN before the hearing. "But you have to get through a process and demonstrate scientific validity. And in this case, to be honest, I think it's nonsense. This is mostly a 'Cheech and Chong' show for the quasi-legalization of marijuana."

During the hearing, McCaffrey, director of the administration's National Drug Control Policy, reported that marijuana use is on the rise and said if the laws stay on the books they will make things even worse.

"The notion of smoking marijuana as a medicine should be preposterous," he said. "Finally, we have cut cigarette smoke in half in America, and here we have a smoked substance that would deliver an unknown dosage ... Why would we do that? What other medicines do we recommend to take in a smoked form as opposed to a controlled dose rate?"

McCaffrey said there are safe, pharmaceutical altermatives to smoking marijuana.

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Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the laws an end-run around laws barring the use and sale of controlled substances.

"Advocates of the California and Arizona medical marijuana measures have achieved through disingenuous tactics what they never could have achieved openly. Decriminalization of the possession and use of marijuana and other drugs is their achievement. It is important to recognize the Food and Drug Administration has never recognized marijuana usage as a legitimate medicine."


Of a half-dozen witnesses scheduled to appear before the committee Monday, only one, Marvin Cohen of Arizonans for Drug Policy Reform, spoke in favor of the laws.

"What we are seeing is what the overwhelming majority of people in Arizona are seeing is that we need a change in emphasis. And that's what Proposition 200 was about."

"...We did not change the law that the use of drugs is a felony," Cohen said. "It is still a signal to the children and everyone else. What we simply said is that the limited resources that we have on the public side, more of them should be used for prevention and treatment, and less of them for incarceration in the early instances of conviction for drug possession.

"That was the general focus of what we did. I think we were right."


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