AG’s Marijuana Policy Slammed by GOP Senator

By Danny

Mar 19, 2009 10:39am

ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Brian Hartman report: Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) ripped into Attorney General Holder on Thursday for announcing on Wednesday that the Obama administration will ease enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have authorized the use of medical marijuana. "This Attorney General is not doing health care reform any good," said Grassley. "The first rule of medicine – ‘do no harm’ – is being violated by the Attorney General with this decision." Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said that Holder’s announcement is "counterproductive" to US goals on preventive medicine because the farmer-turned-senator sees marijuana as a "gateway" drug which leads to addiction to more potent drugs including methamphetamine. The Justice Department announced Wednesday that federal agents will target marijuana distributors only when they violate both federal and state law. This is a departure from policy under the Bush administration, which targeted dispensaries under federal law even if they complied with the state’s law allowing sales of medical marijuana. Grassley singled out Holder for criticism while participating in a roundtable with reporters on health-care reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, DC. On the contentious issue of whether health care reform will include a public insurance option which will compete with private insurers, Grassley said, "At this point, everything is on the table." "Everything has to be on the table if you are negotiating in good faith," he said. "Abortion is the only issue that is not compromisable." Although he said that a public insurance option must be on the table, he also expressed his view that "government is not a fair competitor." Grassley cited a study by the Lewin Group which he said indicates that a government insurance option will lead 118 million Americans to opt out of private insurance. He thinks this will have the effect of shrinking the private insurance market and driving up costs, particularly on small businesses. Advocates of a public insurance option think the public will benefit from the government applying downard pressure on prices. Grassley was emphatic that health care reform must happen this year to have a chance. "If it doesn’t get done this year, I don’t think it will get done in the next four years," said Grassley pointing to the election calendar. The Iowa senator said that he has "not thought through" what the employer contribution should be to their employees’ health care costs. He said, however, that he wants to consider the "problems they are having" in Massachusetts, which implemented a universal health care plan, in addition to problems faced in California, which scuttled health-care reform due in part to disagreements over the mandated employer contribution. Grassley bristled at the suggestion that the GOP would pay a greater political price than Democrats if health-care reform fails. "Can you tell me where you are coming out with a question like that?" asked Grassley. He sought to dispel the notion that Republicans want health care reform to fail by pointing to workshops the party has held to educate members of Congress on the finer points of policy. He also said that no Republican senator has told him that he doesn’t want health care reform to happen, adding that his GOP colleagues are never shy about telling him that he is cooperating too closely with Senate Democrats. Grassley sidestepped a question about whether his concerns about a public insurance option would apply to legislation permitting non-government employees to join the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP), a government-administered set of private insurance options. Some progessive leaders with close ties to the White House, like Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have told ABC News that they think an FEHBP-style plan can become an attractive compromise since it exercises less market power than inviting all Americans to buy into Medicare, the government insurance program that is currently limited to those over 65. Asked to sum up the key dividing line between the parties on health care, Grassley pointed to disagreements over the extent of government involvement in offering insurance. "The major difference is the extent to which we will have a market-based insurance system or a government-based insurance system," said Grassley.

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