Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Brouhaha A Political Ploy
Gov. Brewer’s Court Action On Marijuana Might Cement Federal Legalization
A photo of some California issued medical marijuana bottles and a marijuana pipe. Image by Adam Guzzon.
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine .com
May 30, 2011 — When Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble made public a letter from Dennis K. Burke, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, earlier this month, some wondered why the state was making such a big deal about it.
For more than a decade, the federal government has declared that marijuana cultivation and distribution was a federal crime, but it was also clear that as long as people were operating under a valid state law, the federal government would do nothing about it.
The Ogden Memo of 2009, the most “official”stance of the U.S. Justice Department on medical marijuana, clearly stated that federal prosecutors would not bring charges on anyone operating under state sanctioned policies.
Many states have already implemented medial marijuana programs and the federal government has never just gone in and cleaned out all of the dispensaries, although some federal prosecutions do happen.
Then, two weeks ago, word started to leak that Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne were going to suspend the program because the letter created the possibility that state employees might be held criminally responsible.
“For the state employees charged with administering the medical marijuana program or the Arizonans who intend to participate as consumers, it’s important that we receive court guidance as to whether they are at risk for federal prosecution,” said Brewer. “As explained in a recent letter from the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, the federal government considers marijuana a controlled substance. Arizonans deserve clarity on an issue with such dire legal implications.”
Hogwash. This was political opportunism of the highest order. Brewer, who publicly campaigned against the passage of Prop. 203 and was part of the legislature when they over turned the state’s first medical marijuana program in 1996, simply stopped it by the only means left to her.
And it is surely a grasp at a very thin thread of hope.
While Brewer and Horne vilified the letter as a threat to Arizona, the truth is it was nearly identical to letters delivered to all states that have or are considering medical marijuana programs. In some of those states, the governors and attorneys general threatened to stop or suspend the programs based on the letters. In others, everyone shrugged and went on with their lives.
The difference between the two types? Those looking for an excuse to try and stop the program and those who just want to let the rule of law pass regardless of their personal feelings.
But perhaps the greatest wonder of all of this brouhaha is that medical marijuana just might end up bringing this county back together.
Now, before anyone disregards the hypothesis, it is not a far-fetched as it may seem. The dreaded, liberal, American Civil Liberties Union has joined in the call to have federal courts get involved.
“Patients, providers and legislatures need clear guidance from DOJ so they can proceed in confidence that state law will be respected,” said Jay Rorty, Director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project and one of the authors of the ACLU’s letter. “Patients who suffer from serious medical conditions need safe and reliable access to their medicine without the fear of federal prosecution.”
The ACLU’s letter was also signed by Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office and Jesselyn McCurdy, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel.
Republicans Brewer, Washington’s Christine Gregoire and the ACLU joining forces on an issue? Are pigs flying?
Eventually, this would happen. As soon as it became clear that medial marijuana was here to stay and a growing industry, the countdown for the showdown between state and federal law began ticking. While states with medical marijuana programs are constantly in defiance of federal law, it wasn’t a problem. But the legal system doesn’t like laws that don’t jive with one another. Eventually, those things get settled one way or another — usually in a federal court house.
Surely, voters who are seeing their will trounced might feel crushed once again, but take heart, because the issue might finally get settled.
Most likely, the issue will be wrapped up in the courts after several years as appeal yields to appeal.
Hopefully, the answer will come from Congress. The most supreme legislative body in the land could probably end this contradiction most swiftly. By a variety of actions, they could legalize medical use as administered by the states. With an election year coming, it is a long shot, but most polls show Americans is support of such programs.
Of utmost importance, though, should always be the patients, and according to many, marijuana is what works best. Hopefully, ill patients who are being denied medical marijuana while laws are under review in federal courts will be enough to get Congress to unite. Is there one issue, at least, where both right and left can come together?
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