The issue of marijuana legalization, whether for medicinal use or not, has long been a litmus test for differentiating champions of freedom from authoritarians.
That hasn't changed after Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo on Monday asking federal prosecutors not to target marijuana users and distributors in states that allow medical marijuana.
The Libertarian Party issued a news release quoting their executive director, Wes Benedict, as saying, "This is a small step in the right direction." The LP has been opposed to victimless crime laws since its inception in 1971. Benedict's statement also urged the Obama administration to "take further steps to end the destructive, unjust, unconstitutional War on Drugs."
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, DC, echoed the sentiment as "A good first step."
And, predictably, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) greeted the news as "the most significant, positive policy development on the federal level for medical marijuana since 1978."
This would seem to take California's medical marijuana users off the hook since medicinal cannabis is legal under state law. But apparently they are now at the mercy of their own state prosecutors.
Today's University of California, Los Angeles student newspaper Daily Bruin reports that in spite of the Holder memo City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley plan to "drastically reduce the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles" on the grounds that "they violate state law, which bans the sale and distribution of marijuana."
The article goes on to quote Dale Gieringer, director of the California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) who said that the memo is essentially a restatement of what Holder said earlier in the year and actually gives Cooley and Trutanich broad authority to decide what is legal.
The biggest name opposing the Obama policy is arguably Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The senator declared, "That federal law ought to be enforced." He justified his position with the so-called "gateway drug" theory: “I think that marijuana is a gateway to harder drug use,” Grassley said recently in the Iowa Independent.
Although still defended and debated by some, the gateway drug theory has been refuted by scientific research over the years, including a 12-year University of Pittsburgh study.
Others, such as Charles Lane, echo Grassley's assessment. Writing editorially in the Washington Post under the headline "Medical marijuana is an insult to our intelligence," Lane says, "I worry it's a gateway to harder stuff. So I think we probably should have an open debate about decriminalization. But it should be a real debate, about real decriminalization, and not clouded - pardon the expression - by hokum about "medical marijuana."
Whether marijuana has any medicinal properties is also a bone of contention between freedom lovers and authoritarians. Libertarians take the position that the issue is irrelevant on the basis that government has no legitimate right to prohibit free people from doing whatever they choose as long as they don't harm others in the process. Therefore, if cannabis has medicinal value, so much the better.
For now, all sides will have to be content with the Obama Administration's policy shift, which is not a legal change and therefore does not alter a single federal marijuana law.
October 22, 2009
Libertarian News Examiner