Pubdate: Sat, 23 May 2009
Source: Colusa County Sun-Herald (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Freedom Communications


Bits of evidence keep turning up suggesting that the country is ready
- - more ready than most politicians are yet - to rethink outright
prohibition as the only way to deal with certain drugs or substances.
Some elements of the government seem ready to take baby steps in the
direction of a more sensible approach.

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not take up a challenge
by San Diego and San Bernardino county governments to California's
landmark medical marijuana law, passed by the voters in 1996. Last
week Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama's pick to head the Office of
National Drug Control Policy (the position colloquially referred to as
"drug czar") said it was time for the government to abandon the "war
on drugs" metaphor.

For three years San Diego County has resisted the state law passed by
the Legislature to implement Prop. 215, the voter-approved medical
marijuana law. SB 420 set up a voluntary medical marijuana identity
card program to be administered by county health departments. San
Diego County resisted doing so, arguing that federal law still
prohibits marijuana and facilitating medical marijuana patients would
put county officials in violation of federal law.

That argument was rejected by the superior court, and affirmed by a
California appellate court. The California Supreme Court declined to
hear the county's appeal, so the county threw a "hail Mary" pass to
the U.S. Supreme Court. That high court declined to make the catch.

In doing so, it affirmed the constitutional principle of federalism
that permits states to have different approaches, especially on health
and medical issues, than the national government does. California (and
13 other states) treat the medicinal use of marijuana differently (and
more intelligently) than federal law does. The court's message for
foot-dragging officials: Deal with it.

Counties and cities are subdivisions of the state government, and the
duty of officials at those levels is to enforce state law, even when
there appears to be a contradiction with federal law. Law enforcement
and other officials who have argued a duty to uphold federal law
against medical marijuana users and providers now have no legal leg to
stand upon.

Federal officials still have the power to enforce their prohibitory
laws against medical marijuana patients and providers, but U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Drug Enforcement
Administration will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries
unless there's evidence they are violating state law as well. Trying
to nullify state law by that backdoor method is simply not a priority
for this administration. Good.

Kerlikowske's decision to abandon the "war on drugs" metaphor because
"We're not at war with people in this country" is a welcome symbolic
move, but it will be hollow unless it is followed by policy changes
that will likely involve changes in federal law. As long as the
national government has Prohibition-styled laws against marijuana and
other drugs, the only available methods of trying to enforce them are

Kerlikowske may channel more funds to treatment and prevention than to
enforcement, but if he is serious about ending the state of war he
must recommend changes in the law as well. 
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