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Let States Decide Medicinal Pot Use


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Source: Denver Post (CO)
Author: Denver Post Editorial
Published: Saturday, December 04, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Denver Post Corp
Contact: [email protected]

Many doctors recognize marijuana's medicinal role in helping seriously ill people cope with pain. So do 11 states, including Colorado, where voters have approved the medical use of the drug. But the federal government asserts in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that even the medical use of marijuana is illegal and that the federal view should supercede the states. We disagree. States should be allowed to continue to decide the matter for themselves.

The court heard arguments on the issue last Monday. Attorneys representing patients in California argued that Congress has no authority to ban the drug's medicinal use because it is not part of the stream of illegal drug traffic that crosses state borders. It is grown and used, under a doctor's order, within a state that has made such drug use legal.

The Justice Department argued that state laws allowing medicinal use of marijuana violate the 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits use of marijuana even for medicinal purposes. The government also used the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to argue that homegrown pot could affect interstate commerce, if it drives down the street price of the drug and gets into the hands of people who are not sick. Allowing states to decide the medicinal issue erodes congressional powers over interstate commerce, the argument went.

The Justice Department seemed to go out of its way to challenge state laws that allow sick or dying people to use homegrown marijuana, and to claim that such laws encourage drug abuse. It seems the height of absurdity. If Chief Justice Rehnquist used marijuana to ease the discomfort of his recently diagnosed cancer, as one lawyer suggested, how does that encourage drug use or impact interstate commerce? It doesn't.

The arguments before the Supreme Court arose from a California case that will determine whether federal agents can go after sick people, many dying, who grow marijuana prescribed by their doctors and approved by their states.

Two California women who use marijuana - one with an inoperable brain tumor, the other with a degenerative disease of the spine - sued the government after federal agents confiscated their plants. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the women. The Justice Department appealed.

Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved the medical use of marijuana in 2000. It seems to us that as long as it is grown, prescribed and used in the state, then its use should be allowed under those strict regulations. The court also should consider that penalties for illegal use of small amounts of marijuana has been reduced in many states, including Colorado.

It seems governmental resources can be put to much better use than depriving sick and dying people of temporary relief.

Editorials alone express The Denver Post's opinion.

The members of The Post editorial board are William Dean Singleton, chairman and publisher; Jonathan Wolman, editorial page editor; Bob Ewegen, deputy editorial page editor; Todd Engdahl, assistant editorial page editor; Peter G. Chronis, Dan Haley, Julia Martinez and Penelope Purdy, editorial writers; Mike Keefe, cartoonist; Barbara Ellis, news editor; Cohen Peart, letters editor; Fred Brown and Barrie Hartman, associate members.

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