DEA on the Wrong Trail

April 28, 2005

EDITORIAL, Los Angeles Times

When San Francisco's Board of Supervisors met Monday to discuss how to tighten oversight of the city's 43 medical marijuana dispensaries, Bush administration officials cheered, for all the wrong reasons.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents should have been thrilled that the city is trying to fill the regulatory gulf created in 1996 when Californians passed Proposition 215, vaguely sanctioning marijuana for "any … illness for which marijuana provides relief." The DEA should be offering to help cities draw a sharper line around legitimate medical use.

But no. DEA agents hailed the effort because, they said, it would give them a paper trail to bust more patients and doctors.

The agents' attitude captures the administration's pot policy: Rather than focusing on curbing harmful drug abuse, it's mounting arbitrary and vindictive assaults on both states' rights and patient care. In the next month, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the Justice Department has the right to prosecute patients and doctors who use medical marijuana in California and elsewhere.

The betting is that the court will side with the administration. Pot became a federal crime three decades ago, when Congress declared that marijuana has no accepted medical use and put it in the same class as heroin — illustrating how far the law can stray from common sense.

Since then, specific medical benefits, such as dimming pain and helping AIDS and cancer patients combat nausea, have been thoroughly established.

The administration's prosecutions have punished even those using marijuana for purposes that no medical authority would dismiss as recreational. For example, Angel Raich, an Oakland mother of two, used the drug as a last resort to ease the constant pain of a brain tumor. And Diane Monson of Oroville used cannabis to help her stay mobile despite a degenerative spinal disease.

Local officials are trying to kill obviously bad ideas — like the medical marijuana buyers club that opened last month in a San Francisco welfare hotel housing substance abusers. Instead, the drug agents' threat last week to continue their random prosecutions is likely to derail laudable efforts to regulate Proposition 215.


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