I wrote a commentary on this crucial subject for my column in a recent issue of A & U Magazine. Since the piece isn't available online to link to, I'm reprinting it here.
Earlier in 2007, when I ran for city council in West Hollywood, the issue of medical marijuana was being buzzed angrily in the air...but but not by the candidates. The city of West Hollywood had already positioned itself firmly among the cities and states that support legal medical use of cannabis. With gay men comprising around 30 percent of the population, the number of HIV+ residents and voters is high enough to make medical marijuana a major issue in WeHo.
The buzzing was set off by the U.S. DEA, who chose to do drug raids on 5 West Hollywood pharmacies that dispense medical marijuana.
Timing: January, during the campaign kickoff, as if to try intimidating candidates and city council. Yet the city had been working with pharmacy owners to ensure compliance with state regulations. Until then, the DEA had only raided in areas where local officials had been unfriendly to medical marijuana. So these raids were a major escalation.
But the city council was not cowed, and spoke out strongly against the raids. Candidates agreed - I was one of those who endorsed well-regulated medical marijuana use.
Since the WeHo election in March, ongoing raids have continued to stomp pharmacies across L.A. County. The DEA is now squeezing landlords who rent or lease to marijuana dispensaries, by threatening confiscation of their properties if they don't cooperate. Indeed, according to some local activists, the DEA is broadening their "cooperation" grasp by threatening businesses that are merely neighbors of a dispensary.
The recent escalations mark an explosive stand-off between the feds, who cling to the old-time "reefer is evil and must be destroyed" policy, and a growing number of state and local governments, who feel that the feds' positioning on medical-marijuana use is scientifically ridiculous and medically inhumane. In a 1996 initiative, California voters approved Prop. 215, legalizing the compassionate use of medical marijuana, and the California Supreme Court backed the voters up.
But the Bush administration have their own agenda, and it has little to do with whether marijuana is really harmful or not. A Presidential election is on, so Republicans look for brownie points with any American voters who still fondly believe that marijuana prohibition is winning "the war on drugs." Second, federal agencies fight tooth and nail to keep their funding, and there is $19 billion a year in drug-war funding to protect - plus billions in slush that comes to the DEA under the counter, in the form of property and money confiscations, etc.
All in all, narrowing the feds' ability to prosecute marijuana users would mean less political power, less money and fewer jobs for a lot of people.
This is a major states-rights issue. The federal government has always claimed it has the right to trump state law, but this old principle is increasingly challenged by the states on a growing number of hot issues, which include the death penalty, assisted suicide, gay marriage and electronic voting. In the past, some states haven't always been on the "right" side with rights, as when the South used state sovereignty as an excuse to protect slavery. But today, with the federal government's growing disregard for human rights, a growing number of states are getting in the feds' face with growing legitimate outrage.
For the moment, the U.S. Supreme Court has okayed the raids, and appears unconcerned about patients who find that medical marijuana is the only drug that works for them, especially people with AIDS who rely on it for appetite, weight maintenance and pain control. But the U.S. Supreme Court also came down in favor of slavery, in their infamous 1857 decision on the Dred Scott case. Clearly our country is heading for another huge life-or-death struggle on the states-rights front.
If the Democrats win in 2008, will there be hope for relief on this front? When Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, was a candidate, he was the first to stick his neck out by signing a bill legalizing medical marijuana in his state. By August, nine of the Dem candidates had endorsed some sort of legalized medical use. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also favors medical marijuana. Even a few Republican Congresspeople are coming around. So if the Dems win, Congress might scratch up enough votes to pass the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds for raids on medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal.
One way or another, we'll have to hope for desperately needed sanity amidst the marijuana madness that is now driving law enforcement.
Reform on medical marijuana laws