By Teresa Welsh |
Our system of government was designed to allow the states to act as laboratories of democracy, experimenting with policies that might be most appropriate for them. One of the roles of the federal government is to protect that right, but according to current federal law, that right does not extend to marijuana policy. In 2009, however, the Obama administration signaled that it would restore that right, in part, and not interfere with states that allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes. While only Congress can change federal drug laws to truly free the hands of the states to enact compassionate marijuana policies, the president promised that he would not waste Justice Department resources going after patients and providers who were in compliance with state law. He should keep that promise.
The recent federal announcement of intent to crack down on dispensaries in California is misguided, both practically and ideologically. To begin with, closing dispensaries will do nothing to impact the illicit distribution of marijuana. If anything, the patients directly affected by the closures will be forced to obtain their medicine from criminals, thus enriching the very people the Department of Justice is hoping to put out of business.
Many patients are unable to grow their own medical marijuana or duplicate the variety and quality available in collectives and dispensaries. By targeting dispensaries, the federal government is ensuring that their quality of life will suffer, in addition to their personal safety.
Medical marijuana has become an important part of California's economy as well. Last year, these legitimate businesses reported more than a billion dollars in revenue and contributed more than $150 million in taxes to the local, state, and federal governments. At a time when national and state budgets are in dire straits, and Americans are hurting for jobs, it makes no sense to punish businesses for being successful.
Not only does this crackdown affect the medical marijuana industry but the media as well. The Department of Justice, as part of the crackdown, has said that it will prosecute newspapers and TV and radio stations that run ads for medical marijuana. Without the revenue from these businesses, many media outlets will have to cut staff or close down entirely. Can California afford to lose jobs and revenue to justify a misguided, and ultimately fruitless, strategy?
The vast majority of Californians support medical marijuana. They should be allowed to continue to experiment with regulations that will govern the industry required to provide patients with safe access to their medicine. The federal government has more important things to worry about.
About Morgan Fox Communications Manager at the Marijuana Policy Project