When a local group in Santa Cruz, Calif., distributed medical marijuana to sick patients in front of city hall two weeks ago as the mayor looked on, it conjured up images of Woodstock, not of present-day America. But the event, to protest the federal government’s arrest of two local cannabis growers, is an encouraging sign of marijuana’s growing acceptance. The federal government ought to respect states’ decisions about marijuana, rather than blindly enforcing federal statutes.
Santa Cruz made medical marijuana legal with a doctor’s prescription in 1992; 77 percent of voters voted in favor of the measure. Then, in 1996, the state of California voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Santa Cruz followed in 2000 by allowing medical marijuana to be grown and used without a prescription. The trend in California is clear, and other states are following suit. Seven states, from Maine to Alaska, have voted to allow people with a prescription to use medical marijuana.
Considering that it is expressly legal to grow medical marijuana in Santa Cruz, it is stunning that the federal government targeted the collective—which provides and distributes marijuana to seriously ill patients—as part of the war on drugs.
Unfortunately these sentiments have spilled over from the executive to the judicial branch. The Supreme Court, which under Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has often tried to protect states’ rights, ruled last year that medical marijuana patients can be prosecuted by the federal government in California even though by state law they are committing no crime. This ruling was somewhat ironic; it seems that the Supreme Court is concerned with safeguarding states’ rights only when when conservative values are at stake.
Medical marijuana has many beneficial effects; it can relieve nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy, increase appetite in AIDS patients, relieve intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients and reduce muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis sufferers. As a prescription drug, marijuana is not only cheap and versatile but also amazingly safe. And it is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana.
Medical marijuana should be legalized, but further than that, it should be decriminalized for recreational use as well. Although the drug does have some negative side effects, those problems are far outweighed by the prohibition’s destructive and discriminatory effects on American society.
This November, many eyes will watch Nevada as it votes on a state initiative to legalize marijuana. We are confident that, as in the past, voters will come out against the federal government’s hard line views and demonstrate the strength of the public’s support for legalizing marijuana.