Marijuana battlefield? (EDITORIAL)

January 25, 2004

, Sacramento Bee

Some El Dorado citizens are interested in establishing a medicinal marijuana garden, perhaps the first in California under a new state law. They may find their endeavor to be fertile ground for a court challenge.

Federal law does not recognize any sanctioned medicinal use of marijuana, or a buyers' club or a buyers' garden. While federal efforts have failed in the courts to punish doctors who recommend marijuana or patients who use it under state guidelines, the final legal battlefield may well be in the fields.

If the feds can't manage a successful prosecution against medicinal marijuana cultivators, the blanket federal ban against medicinal marijuana in California essentially loses its teeth. Whether the test case turns out to originate in El Dorado or somewhere else, the showdown is inevitable.

Since voters in California in 1996 approved the medicinal marijuana initiative (Proposition 215), the debate has evolved into one over states' rights. States have long regulated the practice of medicine. And 12 states, including California, have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. The science here remains fuzzy; it's unclear, for instance, whether marijuana really helps combat nausea during chemotherapy. Proposition 215 was fuzzy on the all-important details as well.

The prevailing public opinion, however, can be detected through the smoke. The public overwhelmingly is comfortable with the concept of medicinal marijuana. It doesn't view this as a lost battle in the war on drugs. It views this as a win for patients' rights.

That's not how the Bush administration sees it. Federal law enforcement teams have raided various back yards and buyers' clubs throughout the state in recent years. Yet in some recent key court cases against patients and doctors, the justices have ruled against the feds and in favor of defendants who followed state laws.

The cultivation questions are the final frontier. If it takes one more raid on one more garden to get to the bottom of this, so be it.

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