October 25, 2011
In the design of America's founders, the states are supposed to be centers of democratic experiment. They're not supposed to be uniform. For example, even though alcohol Prohibition ended in 1933, local laws restricting sales exist in 33 states. In the Lima area, restaurant chains reportedly have chosen not to move in — or have worked to change the Sunday sales law upon arriving — because of that.This design is why it is unfortunate that the Obama administration has launched a crackdown on medical marijuana, which is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia. California led the way in 1996, allowing a patient, according to state law, to use medical marijuana with a prescription from a medical doctor. Michigan voters in 2008 chose to join the state allowing medical marijuana.There have been numerous controversies pitting medical marijuana users and dispensaries against state and local authorities. But, overall, things have worked fairly well. The dire consequences of critics — of states lost in a pot haze — never happened. The Bush administration, despite cracking down in many areas of the war on drugs, never seriously challenged states' medical marijuana laws. There was great hope the Obama administration would normalize the matter by formally letting states set their own policies. In 2006, Barack Obama admitted to using marijuana. “I inhaled frequently,” he said in a TV interview. “That was the point.”In his 2008 campaign, Obama pledged, “I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.” After Obama became president, Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden wrote in an Oct. 19, 2009, memo to U.S. attorneys in states that had legalized medical marijuana, “As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law ... is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.”Why the change? Jeffrey A. Miron, a Cato Institute scholar specializing in the economics of illegal drugs, said the Obama administration may be trying to offset its liberal image by “doing some things on the right,” such as cracking down on drugs. “But this is alienating a lot of people in the middle, the independents.”The federal government lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug, restricting research and the ability to study the substance. We continue to believe laws permitting medical marijuana to be good medicine, and medical marijuana should remain a state matter. Along with opium and other strong drugs that already are legal with a prescription, it should be part of a physician's medicine chest to treat patients.The Obama administration should return to its original stance of non-interference in state medical marijuana policies. It should concentrate on the deficit, debt, high unemployment and the numerous ongoing wars, leaving other matters to the states. We'd also like to hear what the Republican presidential candidates would do on this issue.
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