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July 10, 2004 - The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)

Editorial: Reefer Madness

Federal Addiction to Power a Greater Danger Than State Medical Marijuana Laws

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

We're disappointed that the U.S. House of Representatives failed on Wednesday to protect users of medicinal marijuana from the long arm of the Bush administration's Justice Department, which has vowed to keep punishing caregivers that prescribe it, even when such use is permitted by state law.

This action also undermines the freedom of states to determine for themselves whether such uses are appropriate.

By 268-148, the House rejected a measure that would have barred the federal government from meddling in state medical marijuana laws -- leaving nine states that have approved them, including Colorado, suspended in a sort of legal limbo.

It also means that citizens whose suffering could be alleviated with the help of cannabis will continue living under a cloud of uncertainty and fear, in order to satisfy the federal government's own, far more dangerous addiction to control and power, justified by an often irrational anti-drug crusade.

The U.S. Supreme Court next fall will take up the constitutionality of state medical marijuana laws. But Congress could have made the issue moot, expressing solidarity with popular opinion and the principles of federalism, by passing the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment.

Co-sponsored by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative Republican, and New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat, the amendment would have stipulated that no funds appropriated to the Department of Justice be used to prevent certain states "from implementing state laws authorizing the use of medical marijuana in those states."

This was exactly the right way to handle this issue. Congress, and specifically the House of Representatives, is constitutionally authorized to control the federal purse strings, and the place to set policy by directing how funds can or cannot be spent.

In our federalist system of government, health, safety and medical scope-of-practice decisions have traditionally been made at the state level. Particularly when there are no interstate commerce implications, the national government has only limited authority to interfere in such decisions.

No medical marijuana laws have been challenged on the claim that federal law holds supremacy in this field. None of those opposing such laws has wanted to take the risk of making this argument in court.

But the Drug Enforcement Administration, until recently enjoined by federal courts, did undertake an aggressive campaign of arresting and trying medical marijuana users under federal law, often in circumstances in which defendants were prevented from mentioning in court that they were medical patients acting in compliance with state law.

That effort to nullify state laws approved by the voters was an egregious abuse of federal power.

The Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment should have been attractive both to conservatives and populists, because it upholds federalism and opposes the misuse of federal power, while reflecting polls showing that 75-80 percent of the American people, across party lines, support the medical use of marijuana.

Rep. Joel Hefley voted against the measure, siding with those who argue that permitting the use of medical marijuana runs contrary to other federal anti-drug efforts.

But we've just never bought the argument that pot use will suddenly skyrocket simply because states elect to allow the medicinal use of marijuana under a limited set of circumstances.

There simply seems to be no constituency in this country -- beyond a few DEA officials and hidebound politicians -- for jailing cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and other patients for using a substance that relieves their suffering.

It's a shame that a majority in Congress remain behind the curve, in terms of both science and public opinion, on this issue.

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