The Fourth Estate, part three


In mid-March, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Drug Enforcement Administration would no longer target growers in states permitting legal medical marijuana use.

Holder’s approach is starkly different from that of the Bush administration policy to raid state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries because they violate federal law. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance with a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

California and 12 other states have tenaciously legalized marijuana as medication, however. Holder’s policy statement is a victory for states’ rights and indicative of a more respectful, less pulpit-style administration. States now have the right to assert their own will concerning drug laws and enforcement, at least in respect to marijuana.

The new federal medical marijuana enforcement policy is a historic step toward liberalization of America’s traditionally conservative drug laws, which have built a nation of prisoners and an immoral economy of people-keepers, attorneys, judges, police, parole officers and councilors. I’m in favor of any change allowing states to realize the liberty of their citizens to the fullest extent.

As I thought about our nation’s recent sensible shift in drug policy, I began to wonder when I’m in favor of states’ rights and when I am not. I might not a republican as strict as Thomas Jefferson was, who generally defended the rights of states to govern themselves.

I welcome the right of states to implement drug policy, but I’m appalled by Proposition 8. I fail to grasp how a tyrannical majority could presume to inflict oppression and degrade a percentage of America’s population to a lower class: One undeserving of the Declaration of Independence’s creed of natural equality; one slipping through the cracks of the 14th amendment’s equal protection doctrine.

As separate as the issues of medical marijuana and same-sex marriage may seem, they embody two opposing sides assaulting my morality when I think about states’ rights. But the conundrum is short lived, for there is a difference in the details of these issues that allows reconciliation.

First, the Obama administration’s new drug policies encourage harmless liberties — the right to make health decisions for one’s self — whereas Proposition 8 denies liberty. The propagation of freedom is an important and intrinsic American ideal; good enough for a final, shot-in-the-dark justification for the Iraq War , so it should be good enough for my political sensibilities.

The war on drugs is an advent of the 20th century, while the principle of equality among citizens under the law is foundational to the United States’ concept of democracy. Equality is a conviction too fundamental to be threatened by a bare majority in a state-wide election.

I hope California’s Supreme Court will look past the intricate, state-based legal reasoning presented March 5 and agree with the somewhat loftier argument of Attorney General Brown — who said the natural rights of liberty prohibit Proposition 8. And as for the new administration, I’m glad there are some positive news to report. Though some policies — like the wars in the Middle East and the economy — leave me uneasy, I’m glad for a small respite in this tired, lost and strange war on drugs.

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