Congress's call

June 08, 2005

EDITORIAL, Waco Tribune-Herald

As disappointing as Monday's Supreme Court's medical marijuana decision was for many Americans, a remedy remains to restore the legal right to use the herb under doctors' orders.

Conservative justices joined liberal justices in the court's 6-3 decision, which held that the federal government can overrule state laws that permit the growing, possession and use of small quantities of marijuana for purely personal use even when a physician prescribes it.

Eleven states have laws permitting marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

Some doctors and medical researchers believe that marijuana can help patients, often those with cancer and AIDS, to cope with the pain and nausea, among other conditions.

Other states, including Texas, have entertained passage of similar legislation.

The issue before the Supreme Court, however, had nothing to do with arguments over whether marijuana was an effective treatment for certain medical conditions. Instead, the justices were asked to rule on whether federal drug laws, using the authority of the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause, can trump state laws.

Unfortunately for the patients who have had their suffering relieved by medical marijuana, the court ruled that federal drug laws supersede state laws in this instance.

Nevertheless, the justices made the correct ruling. To have ruled otherwise would have jeopardized federal authority to enforce a host of laws, including those covering civil rights, the environment and employee protections.

According to a Washington Post analysis, the Constitution's commerce clause provided the authority for many federal laws passed since the New Deal. These laws are necessary to operate a modern nation.

Without this authority under the commerce clause, the Post posits that Congress could not protect an endangered species that exists in only a single state. Nor could it force an employer who operates in only a single state to abide by federal laws requiring accommodation of the disabled.

The remedy is simple enough. Congress should pass legislation permitting licensed physicians to prescribe medicinal marijuana. Doctors already prescribe drugs that are illegal without a prescription. They should be trusted to do the same with marijuana.

Not only have 11 states passed such laws, the federal government has operated a little-known program since 1978 that dispenses taxpayer-funded marijuana cigarettes to a select group of citizens for compassionate use – medical marijuana.

This nearly secret federal program came about after the government lost a lawsuit filed by a glaucoma sufferer who successfully argued that he needed the marijuana for medical reasons.

Marijuana should not be legalized for recreational use. It should, however, be permitted for medical use under a doctor's orders.

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