State Should Push Federal Medical Marijuana

June 07, 2005

EDITORIAL, Oakland Tribune

If we're ever going to end the tug of war over medical marijuana, Congress may have to pass legislation making cannabis use for medicinal purposes legal across our nation. Doing so won't be easy, but the standoff between the federal government and states with medical marijuana laws was reinforced in Monday's ruling by the U.S.  Supreme Court, leaving us with few ways to rectify two diametrically opposed positions.

Without national legislation, people in states without medical marijuana laws who might benefit from its use to treat illnesses have unequal access to cannabis.  They aren't able to get it without running the risk of breaking state and federal laws.

Sick people in California and nine other states can feel reasonably safe getting it through a doctor's permission and state-sanctioned facilities -- when the feds are otherwise occupied.  But that could change anytime because even in medical-marijuana states patients and providers can be arrested and prosecuted under federal law, which considers it an illegal substance.  Even if you grow it in your yard and use it only for medical purposes approved by state law.

Which brings us back to Congress.  In spite of 'strong arguments' that California plaintiffs Angel McClary Raich and Diane Monson would 'suffer irreparable harm' if denied marijuana for medical purposes, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court majority that Congress' control of interstate commerce to restrict 'medicinal substances ...  is a valid exercise of federal power.'

Thus, medical-marijuana advocates must turn to 'the democratic process' if they're going to erase this legal dichotomy.  Some go to Washington next week when the House considers the Hinchey-Rohrbacher amendment that would prevent the Justice Department from spending money to pursue medical-marijuana patients in states where it's legal.  It's likely to fail but is a step in the right direction.

Ask Rep.  Barney Frank, D-Mass., about the challenge of enacting a federal statute.  He has been trying to pass the States Rights to Medical Marijuana Act for 10 years.

It's time that California's senators -- Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer -- and its members of the House move to the forefront of such efforts.  The Golden State was, after all, the first state to pass a law, with 56 percent of the vote in 1996.  And it's unlikely to be rescinded.

Both Raich and Monson plan to continue risking arrest by using marijuana to deal with their diseases.  Raich, who suffers from scoliosis, a brain tumor, chronic nausea and other maladies, said, 'If I stop using cannabis ...  I would die.  This is the only way I have to .  deal with my illness.'

The ruling essentially returns things to the way they were before they took their fight to court.  Whether growers, dispensers and users of medical marijuana encounter legal problems with the federal government depends on how vigorously Washington pursues such cases.

Monson, who smokes marijuana to combat pain from a degenerative spine disease, says, 'I'm going to have to be prepared to be arrested.'

That's the uncertainty such people must live with unless amendments such as Hinchey-Rohrbacher are passed annually or federal law permits the use of marijuana as medicine.

California's congressional delegation should support the Hinchey-Rohrbacher amendment and head efforts to legalize medical marijuana nationally.  Until Congress approves such a law, people suffering from cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, pain, nausea, AIDS and other diseases that might be helped by controlled use of medical marijuana will continue to be at risk for arrest.  That is indeed cruel and unusual treatment. 

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