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News (Media Awareness Project) - US: Column: The Government's Marijuana Problem
Title:US: Column: The Government's Marijuana Problem
Published On:2011-12-12
Source:Boston Globe (MA)
Fetched On:2011-12-13 06:01:56

Federal Bureaucracy Makes It Hard for States to Administer a Proven Pain-Relief Medicine

EVEN IF I wanted to get marijuana, I wouldn't know where to start
looking. That predicament should not be true for the terminally ill.
But the legal limbo regarding medical marijuana has left many state
governments deciding between promoting patient care and exposing
people to prosecution. Finally, the states are pushing back.

The debate over medical marijuana isn't about the drug war. It is
about where the issue fits in the federal bureaucracy. Location is as
important for government agencies as for real estate.

The Forestry Service is in the Department of Agriculture, not
Interior; the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is within the
Department of Homeland Security, not Commerce. Where an issue is
handled is a reflection of the government's priorities and policies.
Decisions about marijuana's medical benefits are made by the Justice
Department's Drug Enforcement Agency; decisions about whether to
prosecute those who violate federal law against marijuana use reside
with local US attorneys ' offices; decisions about whether there can
be more medical studies are made by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse, whose name gives you a sense of its priorities.

Medical marjiuana is governed by drug enforcers and prosecutors. This
simple fact has created a legal fight over legitimate state attempts
to administer this different kind of pain relief - the only one that,
some cancer patients say, relieves their suffering.

Any column praising a marijuana effort should include the usual
caveats about not inhaling or "I was once at a party where I saw
it." But, this is no reefer madness.

The state legislative effort to promote medical marijuana was backed
by George Soros's Open Society Institute. Presently, 16 states and
the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana; another 10 are
considering it. Close to one-third of all Americans live in states
that authorize its use. Such crazy partiers as the American Medical
Association, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine,
and the American College of Physicians recognize the medical benefits
of marijuana or, more cautiously, cannabis.

Nonetheless, even in the states that allow medical marijuana, federal
authorities keep bringing cases against medical marijuana
distributors, their clients, and the landlords that lease to them.
Some may deserve it and just be fronts for recreational use. But
because federal and state laws overlap, the only assurance the Justice
Department can give to state supporters of medical marijuana is a
promise that prosecutions against caregivers or patients are a low

That sentiment was reiterated by Attorney General Eric Holder just
last week.

Assurances are not legally binding.

This leaves governors in a terrible quandary about how, and whether,
to proceed with laws allowing the distribution of marijuana for
medical use. In Rhode Island, before Governor Lincoln Chafee ever
enforced a law allowing distribution by "compassion centers,"
he received a letter from the state's US attorney to "ensure that
there is no confusion." With a passing reference to Holder's
priorities, the letter warns that Justice will vigorously enforce laws
against the manufacture, distribution, and possession of marijuana
"even if such activities are permitted under state law." Chafee
and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, who received a similar
letter, are now asking the federal government to change marijuana from
a Schedule I drug, a status it shares with heroin, LSD, and mescaline,
to Schedule II. Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine, morphine, and
opium, are equally addictive but can also be dispensed for medical
use. The Schedule I designation was initially made by Congress but it
can be changed by administrative action.

Chafee and Gregoire want the DEA to demote marijuana; they cite 2,300
studies regarding the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana,
studies that they found in the government's own Library of Medicine.
A different classification would give some confidence to states that
the federal government recognizes the legitimacy of medical marijuana.

It would also give the federal government some legal basis, besides
priority shifting, for setting standards for lawful medical marijuana
use. It is a simple request, and DEA should not be terribly surprised
by it. For decades, and despite repeated attempts by scientists and
researchers to prod DEA to reconsider its stance, the agency has never

Now the governors are asking.

The federal government is falling behind the science, the sentiment of
states, and even compassion. It's time for a change of location.

It's time to inhale.
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