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Bill to Preempt State Level Drug Law Reforms

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"Mad Mark" or "Sour Souder"? Indiana Congressman Introduces
Bill to Preempt State Level Drug Law Reforms

One of the House's leading drug war zealots has introduced a bill
to preempt the wave of successful initiatives designed to allow
the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The bill, introduced
by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), would also render impotent any state
initiatives or legislation attempting to reform laws dealing with
any controlled substance.

House Bill 4802, introduced by Souder on June 29th, says Congress
will supersede any state or local laws that:

"permit or purport to authorize the use, growing, manufacture,
distribution, or importation by an individual or group of
marijuana or any controlled substance which differs from the
provisions of the Controlled Substances Act... Any law,
regulation, or ordinance purporting to establish such different
requirement, prohibition, or standard shall be null and void."

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Commerce

Voters in seven states and the District of Columbia have passed
initiatives to legalize medical marijuana. Hawaii recently
became the first state to decriminalize medical marijuana through
the legislative process.

Souder said efforts to make medical use legal "is just a phony
excuse to be a pothead."

That didn't sit well with Dr. Rick Bayer, one of two chief
petitioners in Oregon's successful 1996 medical marijuana
initiative. Bayer, an MD who practices internal medicine, told
DRCNet, "That's ridiculous. He obviously has no idea what it's
like to try to practice medicine and try to take care of people
will serious and terminal illnesses."

"I'm outraged to have a congressman or cop try to tell me how to
treat a patient," growled Bayer.

Souder has also taken some hits on the home front, first in an
exchange of letters with NORML executive director Keith Stroup
published in his hometown paper, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette,
and then from the Journal-Gazzette's own editorial page. (Go
to http://www.jg.net/jg/ and search their archives for "medical

The newspaper attacked Souder for insulting the intelligence of
voters in states that have chosen the medical marijuana route,
for suggesting that their votes could be "bought" by George
Soros, for belittling patients' suffering, and, most
emphatically, for violating conservative principles of individual
freedom and states' rights.

Stroup told DRCNet that Souder's bill had little chance of

"Souder wants to wipe out the will of the voters with a stroke of
the pen in Congress," said Stroup. "I doubt many members are
willing to make that statement, because they respect basic tenets
of democracy."

"His zealotry is overwhelming his common sense here," added
Stroup. "This doesn't strike me as necessarily sophisticated,"
he said, "trying to accomplish that which cannot be done."

Citing the Constitution's supremacy clause, Souder argued that
states cannot pass laws that contradict federal law, thus state
laws to relax drug penalties can have no effect.

Souder wrote that his bill would ensure that "the longstanding
federal laws against the use of marijuana and narcotic drugs take
precedence over efforts to change those laws in the states."

He called it a "technical matter."

Stroup disagreed on several counts. "Contrary to the overly
simplistic analysis offered by the congressman," wrote Stroup,
"not all federal laws overrule state law. In fact, only when
Congress specifically declares its intentions to usurp the field
does federal law trump state law, and no such declaration has
been made regarding marijuana policy."

"Souder is trying to declare the intent of Congress," Stroup told
DRCNet, "and if he were successful then all of a sudden federal
law would overrule state laws. But not now."

Stroup told DRCNet his argument was based on an analysis of the
issue done by the California Legislative Council prior to the
passage of Proposition 215, the state's medical marijuana
initiative. That research found that the Controlled Substances
Act, the bedrock legislation of the drug laws, did not declare
any Congressional intent to supersede state laws.

Also, said Stroup, the council concluded that the supremacy
clause kicks in only when state and federal laws are in direct

"Were a state to decide to set up a legally regulated market, as
the Oregon initiative proposes, that would be a direct conflict
and the feds would override the state law," said Stroup. "But a
state could constitutionally remove all drug laws, and that would
not be a direct conflict."

In most cases, Stroup said, the drafters of medical marijuana
initiatives have avoided direct conflicts with federal law on the
advice of their attorneys.

For Dr. Bayer it less a matter of constitutional subtleties than
an attack on the free practice of medicine relationship within
the context of a broader assault on fundamental freedoms.

"This would be an extreme violation of the doctor-patient
relationship," said Bayer. "Congressman Souder should not be
practicing medicine."

"It sounds like he's trying to be a tough guy in the war on drugs
and promote himself by encouraging the arrest of sick and dying
patients. The public will not stand for it," he predicted.

Congressman Souder has quite a track record as a drug war tough
guy. Here are some of his more notable quotes and achievements:

* Sponsored the "smoke a joint, lose your loan" provisions in
the Higher Education Act.

* On Colombia I: Colombia is not like Vietnam, said Souder,
because Colombia is "stable," an idiosyncratic description of a
country involved in a 35-year civil war.

* On Colombia II: If the US fails to "put any military in to
help them fight our problem," said Souder, the dominoes will
start toppling. "Are we just going to let Colombia fall?
Venezuela fall? Bolivia fall? Peru fall? Ecuador fall? Our
hemisphere fall? I don't think so. We aren't going to lose our
hemisphere to narco-terrorists."

* On Mexico: Souder suggested that future certification be made
conditional on Mexico allowing US Coast Guard officers to board
and inspect ships in Mexican territorial waters.

* On whether to discuss drug law reform: "We don't debate the
pros and cons of rape or child abuse. We don't bring rapists in
here to explain their views."

* Explaining his opposition to needle exchange programs: "A
woman gets raped in the street by a heroin addicts, what are we
going to tell her when she finds out that the needle that enabled
that addict to get the heroin and then get him on the street to
rape her came from" a government needle-exchange program.

* On the marijuana/crime nexus: "In my hometown in Fort Wayne
and throughout northeast Indiana and throughout this country,
kids are dying in the streets, they are dying in automobile
wrecks, they are getting shot down as innocent bystanders in drug
wars, most of which started in some kind of combination of
cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana."

* Souder led the campaign to abort the nomination of former
Massachusetts Republican Governor William Weld to be ambassador
to Mexico. Weld had spoken in favor of medical marijuana. For
Souder, this made Weld "an embarrassment to the US government."