States Have Right to Govern Public Health Laws

October 25, 2011

Kris Hermes, Guest Commentary, U.S. News & World Report

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted federal authorities the prosecutorial discretion to enforce federal marijuana laws even in medical marijuana states. However, in granting that authority, the court did not encourage such enforcement and conveyed that it may even be imprudent.

More importantly, it is not the federal government's purview to enforce local and state medical marijuana laws. Local and state officials must have the right to develop, implement, and enforce their own public health laws concerning medical marijuana. The obstruction of this right amounts to a constitutional violation by the Obama administration.

The federal government has thwarted the adoption and implementation of local and state medical marijuana laws. The Justice Department has carried out more than 100 aggressive SWAT-style raids and sent threatening letters to public officials in at least 10 medical marijuana states. In addition, other federal agencies including the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have attempted to undermine state medical marijuana laws and have enabled discrimination against patients.

Every time the federal government shuts down a dispensary, hundreds of patients are denied access to their medication. One of the most adverse effects of this antagonistic federal policy is that it drives thousands of patients into the illicit market, thereby placing them in harm's way and complicating the efforts of law enforcement.

President Obama should, at the very least, keep his pledge to not use Justice Department resources to circumvent state medical marijuana laws. But, a more compassionate and sensible approach would be to recognize the science behind medical marijuana and adopt an appropriate federal public health policy.

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