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Fallout of marijuana verdict

This week's high-court ruling nudges legislators into the thick of medical-use debate.

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The US Supreme Court's decision this week asserting federal control over marijuana used for medical purposes would seem to bring that controversial practice to a halt. Uncle Sam - not the states - has the last word here, the court ruled.

But the 6-to-3 ruling may have raised more questions than it answered - and not just in the 10 states where medical marijuana has been legally used to treat the pain and nausea of certain illnesses.

For example, will the federal Controlled Substances Act now be enforced more rigorously?

Advocates on both sides of the issue say they do not expect to see US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents breaking down the doors and ripping up the plants of medical-marijuana users, especially if state and local cops - not obliged to help federal agencies prosecute people following state law - don't take part. Just a tiny fraction of the 750,000 pot busts made each year in the US are by DEA agents.

Will the ruling curb the number of states that allow medical marijuana? (The 10 that do are California, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Maine.)

Polls show most Americans support medicinal use, including those opposed to general legalization of the drug.

For example, in a poll conducted last December for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 72 percent of respondents aged 45 or older agreed that "adults should be allowed to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if a physician recommends it."

This can be seen as part of the general public belief that individuals - not government - should be in charge of their medical care, including end-of-life care as was at issue in the Terri Schiavo case.

That support is behind the push in several states to legalize the use of medical marijuana, provided a physician recommends it. The Connecticut Senate, for one, is considering a bill that would license medical doctors to certify the use of marijuana for certain debilitating conditions; patients would be allowed to grow up to four plants for personal use.

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