Friday, May 30, 2014

Congress Passes A First Step Towards Marijuana Legalization


The House was busy last night. At just past 1AM they passed, H.R. 4660, a huge appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and related agencies. The final vote was 321-87. Sounds routine and humdrum? There were 25 amendments, 14 of which got through. The one everyone is talking about today is a bipartisan amendment from two Californians, Dana Rohrabacher ® and Sam Farr (D), which restricts the Drug Enforcement Administration from targeting medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal. The House has never passed any pro-pot bill before. THis one passed 219-189. 170 Democrats were joined by 49 of the more libertarian-leaning Republicans to pass it. 172 Republicans voted no, as did 17 mostly conservative Democrats. These were the 17 Democrats who crossed the aisle because they want raids to continue. Remember, when you contribute to the DCCC, many of these rightists are the ones who get the money:
John Barrow (Blue Dog-GA)
Karen Bass (D-CA)
Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Pete Gallego (Blue Dog-TX)
Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX)
Bill Keating (D-MA)
Joe Kennedy (D-MA)
Sandy Levin (D-MI)
Dan Lipinski (Blue Dog-IL)
Jim Matheson (Blue Dog-UT)
Mike McIntyre (Blue Dog-NC)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Nick Rahall (Blue Dog-WV)
Terri Sewell (New Dem-AL)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (New Dem-FL)
Frederica Wilson (D-DL)
Signing on as co-sponsors were an array of extreme right Republicans-- Donald Young, Tom McClintock, Paul Broun, Steve Stockman and Justin Amash-- and center-left Democrats, Earl Blumenauer, Steve Cohen, Jared Polis, Barbara Lee, and Dina Titus. During the debate, Cohen, a feisty progressive from Memphis, said, "We saw Reefer Madness in the thirties, and it has come back to Congress here 80-some-odd years later… Marijuana does not make people commit crime. It makes them overeat."

Another amendment that passed with big bipartisan support was Mike Thompson's background checks amendment, which won 260-145. 76 Republicans joined all but 3 Democratic Party NRA whores to vote for the modest amendment. The 3 Democratic NRA whores:

John Barrow (Blue Dog-GA)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Nick Rahall (Blue Dog-WV)
142 Republicans voted for more mayhem and murder but Thompson's Republican co-sponsors were Pete King (R-NY), Joe Heck (R-NV) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA). The cosponsors, in a joint statement, said "Our national criminal background check system is only as good as the data you put in it, and right now all the information isn’t getting into the system. When this happens, we can’t enforce the law, and criminals, domestic abusers, or dangerously mentally ill individuals who otherwise wouldn't pass a background check can slip through the cracks and buy guns. Our bipartisan amendment addresses this dangerous shortfall of information by providing states with the resources they need to get their records into the criminal background checks system." The amendment provides an additional $19.5 million to help states improve their submissions into the criminal background checks system' a tiny baby step… but at least it's moving in the right direction.

The other amendment worth noting-- which passed 225-183-- was a profound piece if legislation by Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson which prohibits "the use of funds to compel a journalist or a reporter to testify about information or sources that the journalist or reporter states in a motion to quash the subpoena that he has obtained as a journalist or reporter and that he regards as confidential." That's right-- a codification to protect journalists sources. 53 Republicans joined 172 Democrats to pass this landmark amendment. Only 15 mostly conservative Democrats, led by Steny Hoyer, voted no, mostly the same old jerks from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party who vote with the Republicans on just about everything: Barrow, Lipinski, McIntyre, Rahall...

The Democratic leadership rated the amendment a "no recommendation" and the Republican leadership recommended a NO vote. This was Grayson's Dear Colleague letter than swung the balance and passed the amendment:
Dear Colleague:

In the last set of votes on the CJS Appropriations Bill, there will be a vote on having the Federal Government join 49 states in protecting reporter sources.  The amendment reads as follows:

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to compel a journalist or reporter to testify about information or sources that the journalist or reporter states in a motion to quash the subpoena that he has obtained as a journalist or reporter and that he regards as confidential.”

This amendment would bring federal law in conformity with the law of the States; of the 50 States, only Wyoming lacks protection for reporter information and sources.  This gap between federal law and State law has persisted for over 40 years, since the closely contested 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Branzburg v. Hayes.  Ironically, even though the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees “freedom . . . of the press,” absent statutory authority, federal courts have been reluctant to follow the consensus established by the States that protects reporters and their sources.  For over four decades, Congress has failed to fill this gap.

Support for such a law is bipartisan and bicameral.  In the House, last July, Reps. John Conyers and Ted Poe joined together in a op-ed article entitled “A Shield Law Is Essential to a Robust Press.”  In the Senate, Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham have introduced a federal shield law that has drawn the approval of the White House, called the “Free Flow of Information Act.”

The need for a shield law is hardly abstract.  In 2005, New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for 85 days for doing exactly what any reporter would do, i.e., refusing to reveal her source.

I encourage my colleagues to seize this opportunity, pass this amendment, and show our continuing respect for the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment, and freedom itself.
And encouraged they were. The Establishment lost. America won.

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