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Pot Shots
Write Off Your Congressman
by FRED GARDNER

The medical marijuana movement is a case study in how a potentially radical movement — a challenge to corporate power and the disconnect from nature — gets contained and transformed into a prop for the status quo. The two outfits most responsible for the containment are the Marijuana Policy Project ($6.5 million annual budget, about half from Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance) and the Drug Policy Alliance ($8 million, about half from financier George Soros).

Having billionaire backers enables these two outfits and their subsidiaries to efficiently dun the rank-and-file with mailings and e-mail pitches. The effect is to divert resources from grassroots projects in California and elsewhere to lobbyists in Washington, D.C. (themselves).

In recent years the focal point of their appeals has been a measure called the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would ban funding for DEA raids on marijuana growers and dispensaries protected by state law. As the vote on Hinchey-Rohrabacher approached in late July, the fundraising appeals intensified. A hysterical one from Tom Angell, the “Government Relations Director” of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, was headed “Don’t let the feds arrest my mom for medical marijuana.” Tom explained that his mother uses marijuana as medicine under Rhode Island law and is therefore subject to arrest by the feds.

“People like my mom need you to take action now and tell Congress to respect states’ rights to protect the seriously ill. To make it as easy as possible for you, our allies at the Marijuana Policy Project have created a prewritten letter that you can quickly edit and send to your member of Congress. All you have to do is click over to http://www.ssdp.org/hinchey/

“This amendment has been voted on for the past four years and it keeps getting more and more support. Last year, we got 163 votes out of the 218 we need. We can pass the amendment this year and finally stop the federal government’s war on medical marijuana patients – but not without your help.

“My mom and other people suffering from serious illnesses need you to take action today."

Hinchey-Rohrabacher was voted on by Congress July 25 and lost, 262-165, garnering only two more votes than it did last session, despite the influx of Democrats. Rob Kampia of MPP promptly sent out a letter spinning the dismal defeat as a reason to send more money his way.

"Although we lost, this evening’s vote was a record showing of congressional support, in part because of the more than 24,000 letters that MPP members and allies sent to their U.S. representatives in the last few weeks …

"Congressman Rohrabacher spoke of the deaths of his mother and brother from cancer, stating, ‘If marijuana would have helped them, it would have been a horrible thing to think that federal agents would have come in and interfered with that, if their doctor had recommended it.’

"Leading up to the vote, the MPP staff and our lobbyists had dozens of meetings with House members. The addition of former Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.) to our lobbying ranks this year gave a boost to our efforts …

"MPP coordinated an open letter to Congress from health and medical organizations and helped draft the text of the amendment. And in the last few weeks, we distributed decks of cards – with the title, "The Deal on Medical Marijuana: 52 Reasons Why You Should Support Medical Marijuana Access" – to every House lawmaker. The cards were extremely popular and garnered positive media attention …

"Now that the amendment has received 165 votes, in the next year we’ll be targeting a smaller number of districts to pick up the remaining 53 votes we need to reach a 218-vote majority. The momentum is on our side, and we’ll keep fighting until Congress listens to the American people … If you support the work that MPP is doing – work that tonight forced each member of the U.S. House of Representatives to take a public stand on the question of arresting and imprisoning seriously ill patients – please help us continue by making a financial contribution today. We need you standing with us as we continue the fight.

-Rob Kampia,
Executive Director,
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I’ve mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2007. This means that your donation today will be doubled."

Last month Kampia got a $400,000 grant from Soros, who, till then, had donated exclusively to Ethan Nadelmann and the Drug Policy Alliance. There’s no apparent ideological difference between the two brands.

Both were busy during the 2006 campaign voicing support for the "War on Terror" and kissing rightwing butt (hobnobbing with Grover Norquist, etc.), which may explain why they’ve made so little headway with the new members of Congress. They zigged when they should have zagged.

The real meaning of "write your member of Congress" is "pull your pud." The concerned citizen gets the satisfaction of having taken political action and thanks the reform group for enabling him or her to do it with just a few keystrokes. The implicit premise, reinforced with every pitch to write your member, is that we live in a functioning representative democracy -which we don’t. Approximately one in 30 "representatives" is swayed by their mail on one in 30 votes -in other words, it’s only one in 900 emails that might have any impact whatsoever. (Margin of error = ±2%)

The medical marijuana movement would be much stronger today if a fraction of the money Kampia’s MPP pissed away in Nevada alone -millions on failed ballot measures!- had been spent in California organizing teach-ins on every campus and bolstering the credibility of our serious pro-cannabis MDs. Sour grapes from the editor of the doctors’ unfunded journal? Yes, but true nonetheless.

FRED GARDNER edits O’Shaughnessy’s, the journal of cannabis in clinical practice. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com