Obama is Wrong about Medical Marijuana as Well

July 6, 2011

Presidents are supposed to be compassionate.  President Obama is showing his true colors as his Department of Justice (DOJ) sent out a memo last week on medical marijuana use.  The memo directed the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorneys’ offices nationwide to crack down on medical marijuana shops by making the investigation and prosecution thereof a top priority.  Even though the (DOJ) denies it, this newest memo reverses the Administration’s previous policy on medical marijuana use.  Under the so-called “Ogden memo of 2009, Obama gave habitual pain sufferers and the terminally ill “hope”  by making enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) with regards to medical marijuana use a low priority.  His election cycle about face is uncompassionate as it will bring great harm to many who rely on cannabis for relief.

It has been determined that medical pot is effective in treating the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and epilepsy.  As far back as 1975, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed oral ingestion of marijuana is effective in relieving nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.  Other benefits include the lessening of depression caused by cancer and an increase in appetite which allows cancer patients to live better more comfortable lives.

But the Administration is bent on denying this needed drug to patients.  In last week’s DOJ memo, the reason given for increased enforcement of the CSA was that, “Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.”  Well, in the first place, marijuana’s danger is surely negated by the medical benefits of the substance.  In the second place, the reason criminal gangs and cartels are making so much money on pot is precisely because Congress has made it illegal!  Is there no sanity in Washington?

In the final analysis this is not the federal government’s issue to legislate.  Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to regulate what we ingest into our bodies.  The 10th Amendment reserves that power to the states.  Referring back to the memo, it states that individuals, who cultivate, sell or distribute marijuana “…are subject to federal enforcement action, including potential prosecution. State laws or local ordinances are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law with respect to such conduct, including enforcement of the CSA.”  Nonsense, just because Congress doesn’t consult the Constitution before enacting legislation doesn’t mean what it says goes.  It is proper and necessary for the states to interpret the Constitution and in this case take a stand against the federal government for violating their sovereignty over substance policy by nullifying the CSA.

Of course the President could nullify the CSA as well in much the same way he has stated that he will rightly nullify the Defense of Marriage Act.  He simply could refuse to enforce the law.  But, he answered that question in the memo released by his DOJ last week.  Apparently, political points are more important to the President than relief for the suffering and the supremacy of the Constitution.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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New Federal Medical Marijuana Policy Fraught with Peril

October 23, 2009

On Monday Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memo to federal prosecutors in 14 states regarding the Obama Administration’s position on medical marijuana.  The memo declared that prosecutors “should not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”  Ogden’s directions went on to give federal agents the authority to go after those whose marijuana distribution actions go beyond what is allowed by the various state laws.  In essence, the memo gave prosecutors wide discretion in determining which cases to pursue and which to ignore based on their interpretation if any state laws are being broken.  On the surface, this seems like a compassionate gesture towards those suffering pain from maladies like cancer, glaucoma, and spasticity.  However, upon closer inspection, the Administration simply didn’t go nearly far enough and its position is fraught with peril.

First of all, how can there be a law that the government doesn’t enforce.  I realize there are a lot of old outdated laws on the books that governments do not enforce, but federal drug laws are a big deal.  Now, don’t get me wrong I would like to see all substance laws repealed on the grounds that individuals have an absolute right to do to their bodies what they choose as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of others.  Of course, being stoned, driving a car, and hurting another through those actions should still be illegal.  But, if you want to smoke a joint in the privacy of your home it is your natural right to do so.

The problem with the Administration’s new position on medical marijuana is that instead of saying go ahead and break the law and we will look the other way the Justice Department should be petitioning Congress to repeal the law outright.  What law will he decide not to enforce next – immigration laws?  Oops, I forgot he doesn’t already.  After all, isn’t the President nullifying an act of Congress because he is refusing to enforce its law?  This is no different than when states nullify an act of Congress or when juries release defendants because they believe the law the accused is being tried for is unjust or unconstitutional.  In both circumstances Uncle Sam gets snooty and cries fowl.  Why is the President any different?  Perhaps Congress should sue him at the Supreme Court to require him to enforce the law.

It is also concerning that the Administration is giving wide discretion to prosecutors in pursuing cases.  Naturally, some prosecutors are more gung-ho than others when it comes to prosecuting these types of cases.  Thus, equal protection of the law could be violated simply because there is no concrete legal standard involved only the judgment of individual prosecutors.  And besides where is it ordained that federal agents have any role in enforcing state laws?  This is clearly a violation of our institutionalized federal system.  Next thing you know, FBI agents will be given the jurisdiction to issue traffic tickets on the nation’s interstate highway system.  No, federal agents enforcing state laws will lead to a further erosion of state’s rights and bring us that much closer to federal hegemony over all matters. 

Of course, drug laws are not within the realm of the federal government per Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution anyway.  The states retain the right to regulate drugs under the 10th Amendment.  There are state pharmaceutical laws and licensure in all 50 states.  You would think that somebody in the political establishment could come up with a common sense compromise that protects states’ rights yet maintains regulation over medical pot.  Perhaps federal law banning its use could be eliminated and control of the issue totally transferred to the individual states.  The states could then treat pot like they treat codeine and Prozac – as a behind the counter drug dispensed by pharmacies like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens.  After all, like the aforementioned drugs pot does have significant medicinal value.  This approach would ensure that worthy patients receive the medication their doctors prescribe, states would retain their right to regulating drugs, and federal prosecutors could focus their attention where it belongs – on cases like mail fraud and illegal immigration.

At the end of the day there will be no peace on our streets until Washington ends the so called “War on Drugs” completely.  In all fairness to the Administration, with its recent medical marijuana stand it has gone further than any previous administration in at least attempting to curb one abuse of that conflict.  Let’s hope this experiment goes well and as a result Mr. Ogden issues another memo declaring the federal war on drugs over.