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Rep. Asa Hutchinson, President Bush’s pick to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration, declined Tuesday to commit the agency to vigorously enforcing the federal ban on medical marijuana. The question came up during the Arkansas Republican’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Supreme Court ruled in May that a federal law classifying the drug as illegal includes no exception for medical uses. “Do you think the federal government should make it a priority to prosecute people who are distributing marijuana to ill people?” asked committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The 50-year-old Hutchinson said he personally opposes the use of marijuana for medical purposes — “It is still illegal, it is harmful, and there’s many potential dangers. The scientific community does not support the medical use of it,” he said — but wouldn’t say going after medical marijuana dealers would be a priority for the DEA. “I think as far as enforcement policy, that’s something I’m going to work with the attorney general on and develop an appropriate policy,” Hutchinson said. “In other words, you can’t take a position today,” Leahy said. Like Hutchinson, the Bush administration has been silent about its next move on medical marijuana and has taken no public action to enforce the Supreme Court ruling. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington allow the infirm to receive, possess, grow or smoke marijuana for medical purposes without fear of state prosecution. Those states have done little to change their statutes since the Supreme Court ruled federal law prohibits people from dispensing marijuana to the ill, saying it’s up to federal authorities to enforce the court’s decision. Hutchinson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Speaker’s Task Force for a Drug Free America, was nominated by Bush to lead the DEA in May. A vote on his nomination by the full committee will come later, officials said. Hutchinson — who as U.S. Attorney for western Arkansas in the 1980s prosecuted and got a guilty plea from Roger Clinton on a drug charge — called the battle against drug use “a noble purpose worthy of a great crusade.” “I will bring my heart to this great crusade,” he said. “My heart will reflect a passion for the law, a compassion for those families struggling with this nightmare and devotion to helping young people act upon the strength and not the weaknesses of their character.” Hutchinson was one of 13 House members who argued in the Senate for President Clinton’s impeachment for the Monica Lewinsky affair. The Senate, with Leahy as one of Clinton’s primary defenders, acquitted him. Hutchinson “never showed anything but the highest integrity,” Leahy said. “Thank you for taking a different approach and for seeing my nomination as an opportunity to demonstrate to the American people that despite any differences, we can be in harmony on one of the most critical problems facing our nation,” Hutchinson said. On other issues, Hutchinson said that: � Mandatory minimums laws have helped reduce violent crimes but he would support having Congress take another look at them. “You don’t want to overly tie the hands of judges,” Hutchinson said. � Federal funding should continue to help Colombia fight drug smugglers. “I believe it is a risk we have to take to support a very old democracy,” he said. � Racial profiling would become a thing of the past for the DEA. “It’s important that the federal agencies set an example for the states,” he said. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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