Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Congress should butt out on medical marijuana : Opinion


Toby Nixon
State Representative

The balance between the powers of the states and the powers of the federal government was tipped toward the latter by the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on medical marijuana. As a state, Washington has the right to push back. And, as a state with a citizen-approved medical marijuana law, we should, if for no other reason than to assert our powers under the 10th Amendment to make our own decisions. We can begin by sending a formal message to Congress, and one is ready for my fellow legislators to consider.

The question isn't whether marijuana has medicinal value. Washington voters addressed that when a majority agreed with Initiative 692's position that "some patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses, under their physician's care, may benefit from the medical use of marijuana." For I-692 supporters and those who oppose all marijuana use, the real question is whether to resist the expansion of federal power the court ruling represents, on the grounds that states should decide what's best for the health and safety of their citizens.

If a state chooses to defer to the feds on medical marijuana, fine. But Washington chose to try a medical marijuana law, and it deserves protection from federal encroachment like any of our laws, such as the 1996 "Two Strikes" law for sex offenders. Do we want the feds telling us our penalties for murderers or rapists are too tough? The issue's the same.

The Supreme Court ruled in a California case that Congress' authority over interstate commerce lets the federal government prohibit Californians' use of medical marijuana even if it's grown inside the state in compliance with California law.

Maybe the justices were simply being consistent with federal drug laws, which allow for medicinal use of narcotics (think methadone) but not marijuana. Regardless, our recourse is not to appeal the court's ruling but instead appeal to Congress to amend the laws underpinning that ruling.

State legislators from around the country are in Seattle for their national conference this week, and they'll get to see a measure drafted for our 2006 legislative session. It asks Congress to let Washington and other states decide for themselves whether marijuana may be used for medical purposes, and perhaps it'll inspire more states to stand up for their 10th Amendment powers.

A great thing about our federalist system of government is that any state, with its citizens' consent, may experiment with liberty to test innovative new ideas, without putting the rest of the nation at risk. Marijuana has been used for seven years in Washington for medical purposes under specific conditions, yet no one is asserting it's caused social or criminal problems.

But no matter what you believe about marijuana, it's likely that given the choice between setting their own rules and deferring to authorities in the "other Washington," the people of Washington would prefer to exercise the powers reserved to us, as a state, under the Bill of Rights. It's time to send that message.

State Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland, represents the 45th District and is ranking member on the House State Government Operations and Accountability Committee.


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