Medical Marijuana Debate Headed Where It Belongs

June 07, 2005

EDITORIAL, Portland Press Herald (ME)

 

Though there remain additional constitutional issues to resolve, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision handed down Monday, nudged the medical marijuana debate toward the forum where it belongs: Congress.

The 6-3 decision upholding the right of the federal government to make the medical use of marijuana illegal disappoints supporters of the treatment. They had hoped the Constitution's commerce clause would limit the reach of the federal government in this case.

The court didn't see it that way. It said that the local distribution of marijuana was a matter of legitimate concern for the federal government. That still leaves the issues of whether medical marijuana users are being denied due process or equal protection, constitutional questions that will now be taken up in lower courts.

Still, for now, using marijuana for medical purposes remains a federal crime, even in states like Maine where there are laws meant to make such use legal. What this means is that local law enforcement here won't be after medical pot users, but federal agents can, in theory, crack down on the practice.

If doctors and patients agree that using marijuana is a worthwhile treatment for cancer and other conditions, then there should be a mechanism to provide the drug to patients legally.

That's where Congress comes in.

State laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana - including Maine's - are imperfect, often providing inadequate controls on the production and the distribution of the drug.

Congress, however, has the power work through these problems. It can see that medical marijuana is studied by the Food and Drug Administration and distributed in a manner that minimizes its abuse. Such is the case with a variety of controlled substances, including morphine and cocaine, which are available through pharmacies.

Frankly, part of the political problem for medical marijuana supporters has to do with the coalition that has pushed for allowing marijuana to be used in this way. Some advocates are also supporters of making pot legal. That's a problem for politicians who don't want to appear to be soft on a drug that rightly belongs on the government's list of controlled substances.

One way around this problem of political perception is for Congress to make medical marijuana legal while simultaneously supporting or even strengthening the laws that prohibit using pot as a recreational drug. That way, patients can be helped without lawmakers having to appear soft on drugs.



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