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Friday, October 14, 2011

Is Nancy Pelosi Too Powerful for Pot?

Posted By on Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 8:50 AM

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Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- who, despite no longer being House Speaker, is arguably still the most powerful resident of San Francisco -- is a very busy politician. Just this week, the highest-ranking woman in American political history commented on everything from the Chinese Yuan to abortion policy, and found time to speak in favor of the Occupy Wall Street protest, while deflecting scrutiny for irregularly reporting one of her husband's real estate investments.

Yet it appears Pelosi, who has represented San Francisco in Congress since 1987, no longer has time for medical marijuana. For three sessions in Congress, Pelosi was a regular co-sponsor of medical marijuana bills, records show, but quit her public support once she assumed Democratic leadership positions.

And this week, as even Republicans have joined cannabis advocates in decrying the Justice Department's new, improved, and relentless crackdown on state-legal weed, Pelosi has been conspicuously silent on this issue, while opining on others including an off-color remark by Massachusetts' Scott Brown.

So where's Nancy been on this key constituent issue? A silent supporter, at best.

Co-sponsoring legislation, especially when said legislation has no chance of being heard in committee, has little impact. Yet it was a sign of support Pelosi sought fit to show in the 105th, 106th, and 107th Congresses, when she signed on as a co-sponsor to three versions of Rep. Barney Frank's (D-Mass.) Medical Use of Marijuana Act. Yet Pelosi's name is absent from the fourth version, introduced when she became House Whip.

When asked to explain this apparent wavering, a Washington, D.C.-based spokesman for Pelosi offered up the following. "As a member of democratic leadership, Leader Pelosi does not typically co-sponsor legislation," deputy press secretary Carlos Sanchez wrote in an e-mail. "However, Leader Pelosi has long supported legislation giving individual states the discretion to allow medical use of marijuana. Her position on this issue has not changed."

If that's true, then how does Pelosi view the actions in her district of U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag, who sent letters to three city and state-legal dispensaries in Pelosi's district, giving them 45 days to shut their doors or forfeit their properties and have operators thrown in jail for 40 years? Heck, even a Republican -- Southern California's Dana Rohrabacher -- found time to blast the Justice Department for "wast[ing] scarce federal resources."
Who knows? Sanchez did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, and Pelosi has not said anything publicly on the matter.

Of course, Pelosi is in the Right's political crosshairs constantly, and would do well to reduce liabilities where ever she can. And a former Washington, D.C. lobbyist said that when Pelosi's staff was asked to get the minority leader to support the current rescheduling bill, they said she "supports the issue ... but is focused on winning back the House."

But what good is silent support? "We are deeply concerned about Leader Pelosi's wavering co-sponsorship of the medical marijuana rescheduling bill, especially in light of the voluminous body of evidence indicating the medical benefits of marijuana," the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access said in a statement.

"If she believes that science must dictate public policy, then leadership on that issue ought to begin by co-sponsoring legislation to decriminalize thousands of medical marijuana patients living in her district, across California, and the jurisdictions that have adopted these laws."
Or at least say one way or the other if she's okay with Washington lawyers shutting down law-abiding businesses.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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