Monday, October 19, 2009

Sensible Shift on Marijuana Policy

Obama's Justice Department issued a memorandum providing federal prosecutors new guidance concerning the respect they should afford to those who are using and distributing marijuana in accordance with those states' laws permitting the use of it for medical purposes.

The new memorandum does not forbid prosecutors from pursuing those who use it for medical uses but it does suggest that they should focus their attention on drug trafficking as well as the sale and use of marijuana for recreational use. The law, it was asserted, should not be used against those who are seriously ill nor, it is asserted, should it be used for those caregivers who provide medical marijuana if it is done in conformance with state law.

Senator Lamar Smith, according to The New York Times, condemned the Justice Department in its shift of priorities. He accused the administration of "tacitly condoning the use of marijuana in the United States. “If we want to win the war on drugs," he continued, "federal prosecutors have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute all medical marijuana dispensaries and not just those that are merely fronts for illegal marijuana distribution.”

The Justice Department isn't really "condoning the use of marijuana" for if it was, it would have lifted the ban on medical marijuana in every state. If anything it is respecting the right of states that have opted to allow those who are severely sick to acquire and use medical marijuana for medical purposes. Obviously, for those of us who believe this opportunity should be extended so that everyone in every state could seek pain relief from medical marijuana this is a needed but insufficient step in the right direction.

Senator Alexander says our government "cannot win the war on drugs" if federal prosecutors do not "investigate and prosecutors all medical marijuana dispensaries." Perhaps not, but it could be asserted that we don't need to win the war on all drugs. We make exemptions for prescription and over-the-counter drugs used to help us get well after we are sick. And we do make exceptions for three drugs that are socially accepted in our country - nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine - even though they have no medical value. In its memorandum, the Justice Department is giving federal prosecutors an opportunity to treat marijuana as a prescription drug in states that treat it as a prescription drug. In sum, it discourages prosecutors from going after those who have added marijuana to the pharmacy shelves behind the counter.

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