Thursday, June 04, 2015

Can One Congressman Make A Difference? Get To Know Ted Lieu


Last year Blue America was awed as we got to know state Senator and congressional candidate Ted Lieu. Ted had a unique record of genuine accomplishment in Sacramento-- on climate change, on gay conversion therapy, on predatory mortgage fraud by banksters, on NSA domestic spying... Now that he's a Member of Congress and of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Lieu is one of the most steadfast voices for working families and for the issues his constituents elected him to work on.

Tuesday, the House of Representatives accepted Lieu's amendment to cut federal marijuana eradication programs by 50% and agreed to redirect the savings to programs that help child abuse victims and domestic violence victims. The federal government’s Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program is funded out of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)’s Salaries and Expenses Account. Last year, $18 million was used for marijuana eradication/suppression. Lieu’s amendment cuts $9 million from the account and uses the savings to increase the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) Youth-Oriented Program by $4 million and Victims of Child Abuse program by $3 million. The additional $2 million is sent to the Spending Reduction Account. "Next year," vowed Lieu, "I will bring another amendment to eliminate the program completely."
There is a growing, bipartisan consensus across the country that our marijuana policies must change. Despite the overwhelming support from scientists, doctors, and people across the nation for lessening restrictions on marijuana, the DEA still spends millions of dollars each year on domestic cannabis eradication. In 2014 alone, the DEA arrested 6,310 people under its cannabis eradication program for growing marijuana plants. This is a ridiculous waste of precious federal resources, especially when multiple states and jurisdictions have already legalized marijuana. It is time for the federal government to stop making marijuana use or possession a federal crime.

My amendment redirects funding from the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program and funds programs to help child victims of domestic abuse, child abuse and sexual assault. We need to focus our resources where they are actually needed: standing up for children who have been victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, not spending taxpayer dollars on going after people who grow marijuana plants.
The last time the House voted on marijuana laws was on April 30. It was an amendment by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and it failed 210-213, blocked by the Republican leadership and 8 reactionary Democrats. The Republicans allowed Lieu's amendment to pass by voice vote. But yesterday, Dana Rohrabacher's amendment to "prohibit the use of funds by various states to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possessions, or cultivation of medical marijuana" passed 242-186 with 67 Republicans bucking their party and crossing the aisle to vote with all but 10 Democrats. Rohrabacher did well. Among the 10 Democrats who voted against medical marijuana-- who voted with the Republican leadership against a bill that seeks to ease the pain and suffering of patients whose doctors are prescribing marijuana-- were right-wingers Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX), Dan Lipinski (Blue Dog-IL), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (New Dem-FL).

But Congress isn't the only front where the battle to decriminalize medical marijuana is being fought. A few weeks ago, Jim Kenney won a stunning primary for the Philly mayor's office. And he's all for legalization... and making waves already.

In the wake of Jim Kenney's convincing win in Philadelphia's Democratic mayoral primary, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says he believes marijuana should be decriminalized on a state level.

Wolf has long supported legalization of medical marijuana, but his support of statewide decriminalization underscores the point made by Kenney's victory. That point? Marijuana decriminalization is not the political football that it was previously thought to be.

Kenney, you might remember, championed marijuana decriminalization as a City Councilman. His bill, which eventually became law despite initial opposition from Mayor Michael Nutter, allowed police officers to issue what amounts to a ticket for low-amount marijuana possession.

The marijuana decriminalization law, Kenney said, should move more than 4,000 marijuana cases out of the main court system each year, while countering the unfair application of drug laws. Since African Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite the fact that whites are just as likely to be users, Kenney reasoned, blacks should benefit from decriminalization. In addition, the criminal records resulting from marijuana arrests would disappear, thus helping those caught with marijuana to get jobs.

Those arguments made marijuana decriminalization sound like a panacea, and created a potent political message for Kenney.

Gov. Wolf's spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, reponding to an earlier version of this column, said that the governor's position on decriminalization is not influenced by Kenney's victory, but is based on thoughtful contemplation.

"While we certainly respect Jim Kenney's view on this," Sheridan wrote in an email, "Governor Wolf's position is not a result of the Philadelphia mayoral primary. It is the result of his experience in business and it is a careful and thoughtful policy stance. It is not only the right thing to do, but a smart thing to do economically."

For his part, Wolf has said that the decriminalization of recreational marijuana is a common sense approach to fixing an aspect of our criminal justice system that is patently unfair.

"We have too many people in prison, we break up too many families, we destroy too many lives and we keep too many people from getting the kinds of jobs that they want to get," Wolf recently told Fox43 in Lancaster, Pa.

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