States should decide validity of medical pot

June 10, 2005

EDITORIAL, Norwich Bulletin (CT)

States' rights took a hit Monday when the Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales vs. Raich that sick people can't use marijuana to feel better. The decision is wrongheaded and strained, but it finally ought to catch the attention of Congress, which should legalize the medical use of marijuana.

The high court, in a 6-3 decision, overruled the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and said federal authority overrides any state law covering medical marijuana.

Here's where the decision is strained: It was based on the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress jurisdiction over interstate commerce.

How does homegrown pot given to sick people within the same state translate to interstate commerce? The homegrown stuff would affect 'overall production' of marijuana, some of which is imported by drug gangs.

How's that for specious reasoning? Given that thinking, anything anywhere in the country is covered by the commerce clause.

Monday's case was brought by Californians Angel Raich and Diane Monson.

Raich has inoperable brain cancer, and Munson suffers chronic back pain. For both, smoking pot is their only source of pain relief.

That seems pretty innocuous: two sick women smoking pot in the privacy of their homes in hopes of feeling better.

But in this Age of Terror, if you thought that federal agents had better things to do than take pot from sick people, you're wrong. In 2002, agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration invaded Monson's home in order to destroy six marijuana plants.

This policy is nuts and benefits no one.

Congress -- again -- has the opportunity to step in and say that individual states can set their own medical-marijuana laws.

And Congress had better not avert its gaze when the topic surfaces -- as it has done for the past decade.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has filed legislation 10 timesthat would give states the right to allow the medical use of marijuana.

Frank's 'States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act' (HR 2087) would change marijuana's classification to let doctors prescribe it. It would not change laws governing recreational use of marijuana.

In addition to California, 10 other states -- Maine and Vermont among them -- have compassionate medical-marijuana laws. The Connecticut state Senate this week approved medical marijuana, but the legislature adjourned before the House voted.

It is worth noting that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that while she would not have voted for the California law, she supported the notion of states setting their own policies. She cited Justice Louis Brandeis' view that states should be free to experiment with social policy.

No one should be condemned to unnecessary pain and suffering, but that's exactly what's in store for some people if states are unable to set sensible medical-marijuana policy.

Congress has dithered too long. Frank's bill deserves better than it has gotten for the past 10 years.

It is time for Congress to stop meddling and allow states to decide their own medical-marijuana laws.

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