California vies with feds over marijuana

July 26, 2005

Gaia Veenis, Daily Aztec

This summer, decisions are being made in American courts that Californians should really be concerned about. I'm not only talking about conservative Supreme Court appointments; I'm talking about marijuana and its legal use. The laws Californians voted in favor of are once again under attack; but, thankfully, state health officials are sticking to their guns. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that federal prosecution of marijuana users was permissible even in states that have legalized medical marijuana, according toThe Los Angeles Times. California, as well as nine other states, has passed such laws. This issue came to a head when two California women with serious illnesses sued the federal government in the hopes of winning protection from federal prosecutors. In a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to uphold the federal government's authority, which allows seizing and destroying marijuana that is used by even the most seriously ill patients. This decision imperiled a pilot program launched in May in the counties of Amador, Del Norte and Mendocino. The program established a state identification system, which issued identification cards to patients with marijuana prescriptions and protected them from being targeted by law enforcement agencies. Shortly after the Supreme Court decision last month, state health officials suspended the program in fear of federal reprisals. However, California state health officials reinstated the identification cards on June 18, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A letter sent to the Department of Health Services on June 15 from State Attorney General Bill Lockyer's deputy, Jonathan Renner, advised an end to the suspension. 'A unilateral decision not to comply with state law,' Renner said, 'on the grounds that it may be prohibited by federal criminal law, without first receiving the guidance of an appellate, is barred by the California Constitution.' California is generally a more liberal state, but the desire to decriminalize medicinal cannabis is not solely a West Coast phenomenon. As a result, in 10 of the 50 states, the issue of medical marijuana comes down to state constitutions versus federal laws. The problem is that Washington decision-makers and the U.S. Supreme Court do not always enact and enforce laws that are truly representative of the American people's wishes. Additionally, with the war on drugs coming down increasingly harder on marijuana users, it is also becoming more difficult for activists to be taken seriously by policy-makers in the federal government. A study of FBI data by the Sentencing Project, a Washington think tank, found that marijuana now accounts for close to half of all drug arrests. At the same time, the proportion of heroin and cocaine arrests has gone from 55 percent to less than 30 percent since 1992. The Washington Post reported that one in four state prison inmates are considered 'low-level offenders,' who were incarcerated for marijuana possession. Marijuana, an herb, is being attacked as a much more villainous drug than it truly is. Historically, the herb was a part of Western medicine until the 1930s when it was outlawed, according to The Los Angeles Times. Since then, a continuous propaganda campaign has warned us against often overblown side effects of the drug, while the federal government is resistant to research, which could provide proof of its benefits. Notable Americans, such as Montel Williams, who have spoken out against drug abuse to high school students in the past, are now medical marijuana advocates. Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, according to The Washington Post. After several legal pain medications failed to work, he tried marijuana on a doctor's recommendation and is now an advocate for its legalization. He and others are trying to lobby Washington with the Marijuana Policy Project. Studies by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that nearly 100 million Americans - more than a third of the U.S. population - have at least tried marijuana, and 15 million use it regularly. Like any other drug, marijuana can be abused. However, is it fair to criminalize this herbal substance, which is widely used, helps the seriously ill and has few side effects? We are constantly bombarded with commercials for prescription drugs that come with long lists of adverse, potentially lethal side effects, yet are perfectly legal. Moreover, alcohol and cigarettes are highly addictive drugs, and have been proven to be most detrimental to people's health if abused, yet they are legal. Rather than persecuting sick people who need medical marijuana, I hope our federal government will realize where the real problem with drugs is - it resides in a flawed and poorly led society that drives the desperate and confused to use hard drugs and alcohol as a way out.

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