It’s time to act. If you haven’t already, you need to contact your Congressperson and have them support the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment to the Justice Appropriations bill. At this point, the best way to have an impact is to call their office and tell the staff person.
Remember, this is an amendment to the appropriations bill that would state that no federal money can be used to go after medical marijuana patients (in states that have medical marijuana laws) if they are complying with state law. [This is how the votes went in 2003 and 2004 (an Aye vote was good).]
The amendment is likely to be debated today.
While passage of the amendment is unfortunately still unlikely, we have the best chance we’ve ever had, coming right after the Supreme Court decision and all the press coverage and opinion polls. Also, this is the first time that the amendment itself has gotten some publicity. An AP wire story came out yesterday on it: Medical marijuana proponents seek House vote Tuesday. That story makes it clear that Mark Souder will be leading the effort to defeat the amendment (no surprise).
Mark Souder has already been out on the House floor this morning. The House has started discussion on the Justice Appropriations Bill (carried on C-Span), mostly dealing with the rules, so far. But even so, drug war issues have been mentioned. Souder got up and almost started shouting about the fact that the Appropriations bill doesn’t have enough drug war money. That’s right, Republican Mark Souder thinks the current administration is soft on drugs and said he is “appalled at the President’s approach to drug policy.”
He particularly complained about the reduction of certain programs (like the Byrne grant for drug task forces) with colorful language like: “We’re looking at almost a 50% whacking in some of these categories.”
The thing is, these were horrible programs, full of corruption, that needed to be ended. But the Bush administration didn’t just cut their funding – it moved the money to other areas of the drug war so that the entire drug policy budget actually increased. Now Souder and others are trying to restore the cuts. The House version of the appropriations bill already puts $348 million back into the Byrne grants and $60 million back into Meth Hotspots program, and Souder announced he will try for more through the amendment process.
Of course, this will be done without reducing any of the amount that the President’s budget shifted to other areas, so we could end up with a massive increase in the overall drug policy budget… could that have been the plan?
Update: So far, the leaders of the discussion about the bill (from both parties) are bragging in program after program about how much additional drug war funding they have added to the bill beyond what the administration asked.
Update 2: We’re in the amendment phase of the discussion — the amendments are being discussed, but the votes held to a later time. There are also some amendments that are offered just to have the opportunity to bring up a point and then withdrawn. Three amendments have pushed for additional funding for federal law enforcement (read “drug”) grants to local entities (through increasing taxes, cutting NASA, or cutting across the board). Davis (IL) had a nice discussion amendment highlighting the importance of helping ex-cons transition into the work force. Hinchey hasn’t appeared yet.
Update 3: Buzzword today seems to be “meth.” Everybody’s using the scourge of meth to ask for more funding for federal law enforcement grants. Two more amendments looking for increased funding for COPS, one taking money from the FBI to do it, and another taking money from the Census to do it.
Update 4: Wow! Now they’re asking for more money for Byrne JAG grants by taking money away from legal assistance for the poor! That’s just outrageous. There must be some very powerful lobbying being done by law enforcement for there to be this many amendments on essentially the same subject. [note: idiot Rep. Cliff Stearns actually said that if we fund the Byrne grants, the poor won’t need legal assistance because there will no longer be any crime! And he asked the representatives to join him and “be on the side of the angels.”]
Update 4 pm Eastern: They’re now going to be voting on all the amendments that have been discussed so far, so there’s a break in the action while the members show up on the floor and vote on all of these. Hinchey hasn’t come up yet.
Results of voting on the first amendments that related to drug war:
Amendment offered by Mr. Obey. An amendment to increase funding for State and local law enforcement. The increase is offset by a reduction in funding for NASA. Failed.
Amendment offered by Mr. Terry. An amendment numbered 20 printed in the Congressional Record to increase funding for Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants. The increase is offset by making an across-the-board cut in discretionary spending of 0.448%. Failed.
Amendment offered by Mr. Reichert. An amendment numbered 12 printed in the Congressional Record to increase funding for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) programs by $78.3 million. Amendment offsets the increase by reducing funds for salaries and expenses at the FBI by $50 million, reducing salaries and expenses at the Drug Enforcement Administration by $11.7 million, and by reducing funding for international broadcasting operations by $16.6 million. Failed.
Amendment offered by Mr. Baird. An amendment to increase funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services by $10 million. Amendment also seeks to increase funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration by $10 million. Amendment reduces funding for the 2010 decennial census by $10 million. Amendment also seeks to reduce funding for the salaries and expenses of the Bureau of the Census by $10 million. Passed.
Amendment offered by Mr. Stearns. An amendment numbered 16 printed in the Congressional Record which seeks to increase funding for the Justice Assistance Program by $10 million. Amendment seeks to reduce funding for the Legal Services Corporation by $10 million. Failed.
Amendment offered by Mr. Garrett (NJ). An amendment to increase funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program by $21,947,600. Passed by voice vote.
Update on Hinchey: In a bit of housekeeping on the bill, it was announced that the Hinchey amendment will get 30 minutes of debate (15 minutes per side) when it comes up. Also, it appears that there are a ton of amendments left to debate. It’s likely that this may continue as far as Thursday (certainly all day tomorrow).