Friday, May 23, 2003


Congress should reject
assault on medical marijuana


A House subcommittee is considering a bill that would cut off federal drug-enforcement aid to states that allow medical marijuana.

REPUBLICANS in Congress are joining Attorney General John Ashcroft in trying to bludgeon Hawaii and other states into scrapping laws that allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. Legislation being considered by a House committee would strip federal drug-enforcement money from police in states with medical-marijuana laws and undoubtedly spend it instead on prosecution of such cases in those states. States should be free to allow marijuana to be used for therapeutic purposes without federal interference.

Marijuana has been shown to be effective in relieving pain from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other illnesses. In a study commissioned by the Clinton White House, the Institute of Medicine in 1999 confirmed those benefits. Use of marijuana is allowed for medical purposes in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada and Maine.

The Justice Department nevertheless brought charges of marijuana cultivation and conspiracy against Ed Rosenthal, who grew marijuana to be used in connection with a program in Oakland, Calif., that dispenses marijuana to ill and dying patients whose doctors prescribe it. A federal jury, denied information about the use of Rosenthal's marijuana, convicted him as an ordinary drug dealer in January; jurors expressed outrage after learning of those facts after the trial.

In Hawaii, residents who are allowed to grow and possess marijuana for medical purposes are required to register with the state's public safety director. However, legitimate medical users were placed in jeopardy by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2001 that the federal ban against marijuana distribution allows no exceptions. The ruling concerned organized production of marijuana, not its use, but the Justice Department interprets it as allowing it to trample on states' authority to allow medical use of marijuana.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform criminal justice subcommittee, would transfer to federal drug agents more than $11 million in drug-enforcement funds now distributed to the eight states allowing medical marijuana usage. The Souder bill also would authorize the Bush administration's drug policy office to launch an advertising campaign arguing that marijuana should not be legalized for any purpose.

The federal government is able to prevail over state laws under the U.S. Constitution's provision that federal law is "the supreme law of the land." That clause has been applied for good purposes, such as forcing states to desegregate schools. Forcing states to abandon medical marijuana laws would be an abuse of federal supremacy.



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