Pubdate: Tue, 24 Mar 2009
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2009 Record Searchlight
Author: Thomas Elias
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


There was a time when the term "states' rights" stood  for trampling 
on the rights of individuals. Many states  asserted during the great 
civil rights battles of the  20th century that they had the right to 
prevent some  citizens from voting, eating in the restaurants of 
their choice, drinking from public water fountains or  sitting where 
they pleased on buses and trains.

But issues of states' rights were essentially turned on  their head 
by a U.S. Supreme Court bent on restricting  some items (like medical 
marijuana, OK'd in 1996 by  California voters) and by the former 
George W. Bush  administration, which was willing to claim almost 
anything to further its agenda of favoring big business  over 
consumers and the environment.

That began to change after Barack Obama became the 44th  president. 
For one thing, despite a few raids early in  Obama's term, his 
attorney general, Eric Holder, has  now made it clear he will no 
longer prosecute medical  marijuana dispensaries operating according 
to  California's 1990s-era law.

But other signals indicate the Supreme Court remains a  states' 
rights opponent.

The most prominent of those came in a decision  involving the U.S. 
Navy and the dolphins and gray  whales that migrate annually along 
the California  coast. The Navy and the marine mammals 
generally  coexist happily, but not in the strait between 
San  Clemente and Santa Catalina islands off the California  coastline.

The Navy uses that strait to practice submarine  detection because it 
boasts currents and other  conditions similar to those in the Strait 
of Hormuz,  the strategic entrance to the Persian Gulf. Trouble is, 
environmental groups say naval midfrequency active  sonar has killed 
and injured whales and dolphins by  interfering with their own 
sonarlike communications.

The state Coastal Commission and several private  wildlife protection 
organizations sued last year to  prevent the Navy from conducting 
exercises in the  strait at times when marine mammals are near. U.S. 
District Judge Florence Marie Cooper went aboard  several naval 
vessels to observe maneuvers and later  found in favor of the whales 
and the Coastal  Commission, instructing the Navy to shut down its 
sonar  when within 2,200 yards of whales or dolphins.

The Navy appealed immediately to then-President Bush,  who responded 
with the first and so far only  presidential order exempting military 
maneuvers from  environmental rules. The Natural Resources Defense 
Council and others took the case to the U.S. Supreme  Court, which 
held by a one-vote margin that the Navy  can do as it likes and never 
mind the state or the  animals.

The ruling implies that even with Bush long gone, and  with Obama 
reversing or about to overturn several Bush  stances - including his 
refusal to allow California to  regulate carbon dioxide emissions 
from cars and trucks  - the states' rights battle will continue.

The biggest change so far is Holder's indication that  the long 
federal campaign to harass or shut down  medical marijuana clinics 
and cooperatives in  California is over. A profusion of clinics 
sprang up after passage of Proposition 215, which allows use 
of  medipot with a doctor's recommendation. Some of the  clinics and 
co-ops have long been suspected of selling  pot to anyone, not just 
those with notes from doctors.  They also are accused of accepting 
almost any piece of paper as a recommendation, without bothering to 
check  authenticity. Now, Holder says only those suspected of  such 
wrongs will be prosecuted.

Under both Bush and his Democratic predecessor, Bill  Clinton, raids 
were frequent on clinics and growers who  maintained they supply only 
legitimate patients. The  justification always was that federal law 
banning  marijuana use takes precedence over any state law -  even 
though more than a dozen other states have voted  to legalize medipot 
since the California vote.

But despite Obama's hands-off medipot policy, the  anti-states' 
rights Supreme Court majority remains.  It's a majority that has 
insisted the federal  government can override state decisions on 
siting of liquefied gas terminals, controlling pollution at 
ports  and many other items.

So long as that majority survives, one principle long  upheld by 
California's highest state court will be in  jeopardy: that one that 
holds that while states may not  grant their citizens (or animals, in 
some cases) fewer  rights than guaranteed under the federal 
Constitution,  they can grant more rights.

This was the principle at work last spring when the  state Supreme 
Court legalized same-sex marriage, a  decision narrowly reversed 
months later by the voters  via Proposition 8 and now back before the 
same court.

It's a principle that has furthered the fight against  smog, led to 
legalized abortion here long before the  Roe v. Wade decision did it 
nationally and helped  equalize revenue among school districts, among 
many  important steps.

Bush eroded that principle, with consistent backing by  the federal justices.

Obama has not yet shown he can reverse that tide.

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Thomas Elias is a political columnist whose commentary  appears in 
newspapers throughout California.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom