Local Buzz from Marijuana Bill Surprises Clay

August 5, 2008

Washington, DC — Rep. Lacy Clay didn’t intend to sign on to a bill legalizing marijuana, but he’s happy so far with the buzz from constituents.

The Missouri Democrat was flying with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on a congressional trip to Africa earlier this year when Frank asked Clay to co-sponsor his “marijuana bill.”

It seemed like a simple request to Clay, who for years has signed on to bills to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. So his answer was “No problem.” He called his staff and told them to put his name on the bill.

Only later did he find out that the bill went far beyond medical marijuana. Frank’s bill would end all prosecution of the personal use of marijuana, and Clay was one of only seven sponsors.

Clay was worried about the reaction. Supporting the liberalization of marijuana laws is not often seen as a political winner, especially in Midwestern cities like St. Louis.

But instead of stoner jokes, derision and righteous indignation, Clay was surprised to start getting praise from complete strangers.

“People are coming up to me saying this is a common-sense, sensible way to deal with the issue of personal use,” Clay said.

So far, he said, his calls, mail and contacts are running 80-20 in favor of the bill. He was impressed enough that he decided to go ahead and step before the cameras last week with Frank and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) at a news conference touting the bill.

A number of the bill’s sponsors didn’t show up for the news conference, which was crowded by reporters and staff.

When it was his turn, Clay made the case that many people have been locked up for minor marijuana offenses in his state.

“It was economic development for rural Missouri because we built so many prisons there. It is time for us to redirect our resources,” Clay said.

After the event, Clay said he figures the swell of support might shift as his stance gets better-known and he starts to hear from more opponents of “the evil cannabis.”

Referred to as “decriminalization,” Frank’s bill would end federal prosecution of the personal use of marijuana. Practically speaking, it would matter only in places where state or local governments have legalized marijuana or allowed medicinal use by preventing federal officials from stepping in to prosecute. Frank supports the wider exemption over a narrow medicinal exemption to prevent federal officials from quibbling about what constitutes medicinal use.

One Republican is supporting the bill: Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), a GOP presidential candidate with a libertarian streak.

When asked about the prospects of passage last week, Frank didn’t miss a beat in showcasing his sense of humor: “I would say the chances are not high.”

Complete Title: Positive Local Buzz from Marijuana Bill Surprises Clay

Source: Hill, The (US DC)

Website: http://www.thehill.com/

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