Michigan’s attempt to legalize medical marijuana has created widespread confusion, as two more cases before the state Supreme Court illustrate, and ongoing conflict with federal law. So backers of a new Michigan proposal to legalize marijuana outright should refocus their efforts at the root of the problem.
By now, virtually everyone concedes Michigan’s 2008 ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana was well-intentioned but had serious problems. To name just a few were vagueness over how patients could be certified, how caregivers could legally obtain plants and the issue of dispensaries.
The thorniest issue, though, is the state law’s defiance of the federal government’s ban on marijuana. Even with state legalization extended only to medical patients with certain illnesses, federal authorities have conducted raids and seized medical records, and Michiganders have ended up sentenced to time in federal prisons. Expanding state permission to grow, sell and use marijuana to hundreds of times more people will only expand the number of federal cases against Michigan residents.
To be clear, we believe the federal war on marijuana has been a mistake in terms of money spent, lives lost and power given to illegal drug cartels that flout the prohibition. Although we do not endorse the use of marijuana, just as we do not endorse smoking cigarettes, we believe it’s time to end the federal ban and to implement a process of regulation, both medically and commercially. A Gallup poll in October showed that a record 50 percent of Americans now feel the same way.
That can’t happen, however, until the federal ban ends. Passing conflicting state laws won’t work. The U.S. Supreme Court already addressed precisely that issue, with marijuana, in its 2005 case Gonzales vs. Raich. It ruled 6-3 that state law is no defense against the federal ban, even for home-grown marijuana used for medical purposes.
That’s not to say the latest petition drive doesn’t have some appeal. For one thing, it eventually could help push Congress to do what it’s failed to for decades. For another, it would end the state’s current sham in which healthy residents obtain bogus certification without any medical need. We also applaud the efforts of supporters seeking to make a bad situation better.
Passing a state initiative that would put even more residents in violation of federal law, though, is irresponsible. It would be little different than telling state residents they don’t need a license to fly an airplane, or anything else that the federal government prohibits. It might mean less effort by local officials pursuing marijuana – although federal-local operations might occur – yet it would certainly mean state money wasted on a federal court battle that’s already been lost. In the end, it would result in more people who thought they’d obeyed the law finding themselves in federal court facing federal prison sentences.
A better route for ending the ban is to pressure Congress. Sen. Carl Levin is a longtime member and Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Tim Walberg both are up for election. If they truly believe in respectively, compassion for the ill in Stabenow’s case or limited federal government in Walberg’s, then they ought to support the ban repeal already introduced by Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul or introduce a different version themselves.
Trying to fix a federally based problem through further defiance at the state level may feel satisfying but, in the end, will not fix a federal prohibition that has been a nationwide failure.