Only Congress can resolve pot battle

August 02, 2007

EDITORIAL, Daily Breeze (CA)

Following in the footsteps of Torrance, Carson and a number of other South Bay cities, the Los Angeles City Council this week approved a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries.

In the meantime, the city is preparing to draw up tighter restrictions on existing dispensaries.

Considering how dispensaries have proliferated in recent years and have fueled concerns about related criminal activities, it was a sensible vote. But the council took the matter one step further by also calling for a stop to raids on clinics by federal agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency.

One can see how both sides are driven by a certain moral authority. City lawmakers want to honor the mandate of California voters who in 1996 approved Proposition 215, allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. And federal agents are simply using their authority to uphold marijuana's designation as a controlled substance under federal law.

A strongly worded letter signed by Councilman Dennis Zine and other council members called on the DEA administrator to end raids on pot dispensaries. Zine has also called DEA agents "bullies."

There may be a lot of frustration around this muddled legal issue, but we don't see much good coming out of a confrontation between city politicians and federal agents. After all, the agents are simply doing the job they've been assigned, which is carrying out the will of Congress.

Clearly, if the city wants to end the raids, it must do more to get the attention of federal lawmakers. The House on Wednesday rejected legislation that would have addressed the issue by blocking the Justice Department from interfering with California and other states that allow the use of marijuana to treat debilitating diseases.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that medical marijuana users could be federally prosecuted, though the court did suggest that supporters of medical marijuana could lobby Congress to change the law.

That's where municipal leaders who support regulating medical marijuana at the local level should place their energies.

We previously expressed a hope that the federal agents would concentrate on violations of drug laws more egregious than medical marijuana use. That would seem to be a better use of resources. That said, however, it's just not too realistic to think the city officials' efforts to tell federal drug enforcement agents how to do their jobs will have much effect without a sea change in Congress.

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