Bush backs states’ rights on marijuana

The Dallas Morning News – October 20, 1999

Bush backs states’ rights on marijuana

He opposes medical use but favors local control

By Susan Feeney

WASHINGTON – Gov. George Bush said he backs a state’s right to decide whether to allow medical use of marijuana, a position that puts him sharply at odds with Republicans on Capitol Hill. “I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose,” the governor said recently in Seattle in response to a reporter’s question.

Chuck Thomas, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a medical marijuana lobbying group, praised Mr. Bush as “courageous” and “consistent on states’ rights. I would hope he would be an example for Republicans in Congress.”

Aides said Mr. Bush does not support legalizing marijuana for medical use. But his position supporting state self-determination opens the door to medical marijuana use in some places. President Clinton and most Republican lawmakers, by contrast, oppose all state medical marijuana legalization laws, saying they could lead to abuse.

But Mr. Clinton – in a move philosophically in tune with Mr. Bush – has said Republicans in Congress went too far in seeking to block the District of Columbia’s medical marijuana ballot initiative, which won 69 percent support last year.

The president recently vetoed the district’s $4.7 billion budget approved by Congress, in part because of a provision to overturn the medical marijuana law.

“For us, that’s an issue of local control,” of not “micromanaging local government,” said White House spokesman Jake Siewert. The veto was not about the merits of the issue, he said.

Among the Republicans leading the charge against the district’s law are GOP House leaders and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Bush supporter and chairwoman of the District of Columbia Appropriations Subcommittee.

The district should not be “a haven for marijuana use, even for medicinal purposes,” Ms. Hutchison said on the Senate floor. “I don’t think we should take an illegal drug and allow it to be legalized in our capital city.”

Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have approved medical marijuana laws, giving the issue prominence in key Western states.

Mr. Bush, campaigning for president in Seattle on Saturday, told reporters he felt certain that such a move was “not going to happen in Texas.” The state has no direct referendums or voter initiatives.

Although addressing the states’ rights issue, Mr. Bush didn’t comment directly on the District of Columbia issue. His position of opposing the medical marijuana but saying states should decide is unique among presidential contenders, Mr. Thomas said.

Staff writer Wayne Slater in Austin contributed to this report.

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