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Let states decide on medical pot

The House of Representatives this week, for the second time in a year, rejected a bill that would have protected the rights of states like California that have laws allowing patients to legally use marijuana if it is recommended and supervised by a doctor.

First of all, we thought it was a tenet of conservatism – which the Bush administration and a goodly number of members of Congress profess to believe in – that the federal government should let individual states decide what they think is best for its citizens.

Second, we could hardly miss the irony that, also this week, the Justice Department announced there is a high possibility that Osama bin Laden is organizing to attack in the United States this year. At a time when the maximum number of federal agents are needed to stop terrorism, they are instead deployed to raid California pot shops licensed by the state to alleviate the suffering of seriously ill people.



Eight other states in addition to California – Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Nevada – permit marijuana to be used to relieve a number of symptoms, including pain and nausea related to chemotherapy, muscle spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis, cataracts, and wasting due to AIDS.

This doesn’t prompt any sympathy from the White House or anti-drug groups, which say that under the Controlled Substances Act, pot is classified as a dangerous drug, and federal authority to regulate interstate commerce overrides state law.




Republican Congressman Max Burns of Georgia says laws like California’s “are simply the first step in a scheme to overturn all the substance abuse laws that we work hard to enforce today.”

If it’s a scheme, it is one that includes several federal courts that have sided with the states. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last December in Raich v. Ashcroft that “the intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician is, in fact, different in kind from drug trafficking … .”

The CSA’s pot provisions were declared unconstitutional in a majority view that drew heavily on a 1995 opinion by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist that limited federal authority in that arena.

Now Rehnquist and the high court have agreed to hear an appeal of Raich by Attorney General John Ashcroft. We hope that the final decision, due next summer, will side with state autonomy and let the federal government turn its energies to a more fearsome threat.


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