Put state pot law to use


POSTED: Wednesday, October 21, 2009

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's release of a memorandum honoring states' legalization of medical marijuana is not likely to budge the Lingle administration's opposition. But state legislators should try to compel the administration to accept a system for patients to gain access to marijuana without having to do business with illegal drug dealers.

President Barack Obama promised in last year's campaign to recognize state medical marijuana laws and Holder said in March that the administration would not interfere with those laws. A three-page memo written by Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden and made public this week by Holder clarified the policy, which runs counter to that of the George W. Bush administration.

In a statement accompanying the memo, Holder said the department will not waste energy prosecuting “;patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana.”; But, he added, it would not “;tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.”;

The problem in Hawaii is that patients have little choice except to obtain marijuana from those drug traffickers. Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a bill this year aimed at creating a task force aimed at finding a way for patients to obtain it legally. Although lawmakers overrode her veto, she refused to construct the task force. A private study group has begun reviewing the issue in its place.

The Lingle administration clings to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that the federal government may prosecute medical users of marijuana. Despite the Obama administration's decision not to seek such prosecutions, Lingle insists that use of medical marijuana for medical purposes is “;still illegal under federal law.”;

The Ogden memo says the U.S. Justice Department will not prosecute individuals who were in “;clear and conspicuous compliance”; with laws in the 14 states where medical marijuana is permitted. Some patients may conclude that the Lingle administration intends for them to acquire their medicine from drug dealers, but that would be a mistake.

Instead, Lingle obviously opposes the use of marijuana for medical purposes, even though it has been effective in reducing pain, nausea and other ailments and has been legalized by the state Legislature. Lawmakers must either find a way to force her to follow the intent of the state's medical marijuana law—not an unenforced federal law—or await the next administration after her term expires.