A Criminal Prescription

June 07, 2005

EDITORIAL, Brattleboro Reformer (VT)

Congress needs to deal with the Supreme Court's medical marijuana decision this week for a number of reasons -- not just because we ( like a number of Vermonters ) think medical marijuana use is a good idea, but also because it brings up the old states' rights versus federal rights debate. This week, in a 6-3 decision, the high court said patients who smoke medical marijuana can be prosecuted under federal drug laws. Congress should allow the compassionate use of medical marijuana in cases where a doctor prescribes it to alleviate a patient's pain. Ten states, including Vermont ( which has about 13 registered medical marijuana users ), have laws allowing it.

Congress shouldn't allow the high court's ruling to pre-empt states without medical marijuana laws from adopting them. By the same Supreme Court ruling, a Vermont patient, while abiding by state law, shouldn't have to worry about getting arrested by federal agents.

Most states that allow patient pot report they won't change the ways they do business, and officials on both sides say they don't expect to launch large efforts to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users. Still, the court sets up an awkward situation between states and the federal government. Case in point: Oregon got cold feet about the court ruling and stopped issuing medical marijuana permits Monday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose State of California has 10,000 registered medical marijuana users, called on Congress to "provide clarity."

While there may be no rush to prosecute patients on the federal level, they say, one must be reminded that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is just stepping into office. His compassion has yet to be tested -- the paperweights probably aren't even in place on his desk yet. However, it's worth remembering that his predecessor, John Ashcroft, asserted the full arm of federal law against medical marijuana users.

Our Congress-folks, a good many we suspect have puffed the wacky weed, ought to make clear that medical marijuana shouldn't be subject to the federal government's Draconian drug laws.

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