Pubdate: Thu, 31 May 2001
Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News (CO)
Copyright: 2001 Denver Publishing Co.
Author: Bill Owens, Ken Salazar
Note: Owens is Governor and Salazar is Attorney General of Colorado
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Last fall, a majority of Colorado voters approved a constitutional
amendment creating a state registry program for medical marijuana. We
spoke out against this amendment at the time and worked to defeat it.
And we remain strongly opposed to it -- as officials responsible for
upholding anti-drug laws; as private citizens concerned about
drug-related crime; and as husbands and fathers concerned about
legitimizing illicit drug use among Colorado's young people. We also
opposed this effort because the physician community made it clear that
marijuana offered no benefits to patients that were not already provided
by existing drugs. 

Nevertheless, once the voters had spoken, we accepted the will of the
majority and immediately took steps to implement the marijuana registry
program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

The future of state medical marijuana programs was put in doubt,
however, by a May 14th ruling of the United States Supreme Court. In
United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative case, the Court
ruled that there is no medical necessity to the federal Controlled
Substances Act's prohibitions on manufacturing and distributing

In light of the Oakland decision, a number of news commentators and
editorial writers assumed that Colorado's medical marijuana program
would be scrapped. Our solemn duty as elected constitutional officers,
however, was to analyze the Supreme Court's ruling carefully to
determine whether the will of a majority of Colorado voters could still
somehow be given effect. 

For us to ignore the legal possibility that Colorado's marijuana program
might still survive -- even after the Oakland decision -- would be to
substitute our personal opinions for that of the will of the majority.
This we cannot and will not do. For whatever our grave personal concerns
about medical marijuana, we have sworn to protect Colorado's
constitution and laws at all times. 

After exhaustive research and vigorous debate by attorneys in both our
offices, we have concluded that the Supreme Court's holding in the
Oakland case was deliberately narrow enough to permit Colorado's medical
registry to go forward. This is admittedly a close question, on which
reasonable attorneys can and do disagree. Frankly, the Supreme Court's
decision does not strike any of us as a model of clarity. The legal
experts with whom we have consulted all agree that it seems to raise
more questions than it answers. 

However, we are persuaded that the question presented in the Oakland
case was presented in extraordinarily narrow terms. The Court struck
down the ability of so-called marijuana "buyers' cooperatives" to
distribute marijuana for medical purposes. Yet the justices did not
expressly invalidate the registry program. On balance, the Court's
ruling appears to leave at least some room for Colorado to implement its
marijuana program -- as absurd and wasteful as that result may be. The
registry part of that program will therefore take effect tomorrow as
provided by last fall's amendment. 

However, we remind anyone intending to register for the program -- as
well as physicians considering prescribing marijuana to their patients
- -- that it remains a federal crime to possess, manufacture, distribute
or dispense marijuana. To fulfill our duties under federal law, we are
today contacting the Colorado Medical Association to remind the
physicians of Colorado that doctors who dispense marijuana for any
purpose risk federal criminal prosecution. We are also writing the
acting United States Attorney for the District of Colorado to encourage
the criminal prosecution of anyone who attempts to use this state
program to circumvent federal anti-drug laws. 

Finally, it is our hope that the federal courts and Congress will
address the medical marijuana issue in the near future. For states such
as Colorado to establish registry programs with no apparently valid
legal purpose strikes us as an unfortunate but unavoidable reality of
current federal law. Revisiting this question, before additional state
resources are needlessly expended on what amounts to a state-sanctioned
protest vehicle against federal drug laws, would be in the best
interests of all Colorado voters.
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