Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush says he believes individual states should choose whether to ban the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but is stopping short of saying the District should enjoy that privilege.
The Texas governor, who in recent weeks has distanced himself from several positions taken by conservative Republicans in Congress, said that when it came to congressional efforts to ban a medical marijuana law here, he was in Congress's corner.
Campaigning in Seattle on Saturday, Bush answered questions about medical marijuana laws by saying, "I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose."
The GOP presidential front-runner opposes the medical use of marijuana himself, his campaign spokesman said yesterday. Bush added that he felt certain that no attempt would be successful in his own state.
As for the District, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that "D.C. laws are subject to congressional review."
Although Bush supports congressional influence in D.C. decisions, his support of states' rights on the medical marijuana issue conflicts with many GOP lawmakers' belief that such laws undermine anti-drug efforts.
House and Senate leaders this fall are seeking to prevent the District from enacting a medical marijuana law, even though 69 percent of D.C. votes approved such a measure last year.
No other presidential candidate has opposed medical use of marijuana while saying states should decide the issue.
R. Keith Stroup, executive director for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington, which has backed D.C.'s drug initiative, said he was "delighted" by Bush's support of state authority.
"Governor Bush is at least being consistent," Stroup said. "Republicans frequently talk about devolution, returning power to the states. . . . It is encouraging to hear him indicate that he would leave this decision to them."
Besides the District, voters in Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have approved state laws permitting the possession, use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana if recommended by a physician for serious illness.
Advocates say the drug can relieve the symptoms of AIDS, cancer and other illnesses. Opponents maintain that patients have other alternatives and that legalizing drugs sets a dangerous precedent, particularly for children.
In September 1998, the full House voted 310 to 93 in favor of a nonbinding resolution opposing marijuana legalization for medical use among the states.
Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.), a vocal critic of the D.C. initiative, said yesterday that the White House national drug policy director, Barry R. McCaffrey, supported the House vote.
Barr said that Bush "has staked out a position to the left of the Clinton administration, which is a very odd place for a Republican presidential candidate to be."
President Clinton has vetoed the District's $4.7 billion budget--in part because of a provision sponsored by Barr to overturn D.C. marijuana legislation--on reasoning similar to Bush's.
"We oppose these initiatives, and we oppose legislation to make marijuana legal," White House spokesman Jake Siewert said yesterday, "but on a number of areas, Congress infringed on the right of D.C. to govern itself."