Source:  Mike McInally, Albany Democrat-Herald May 15 2014

As states such as Oregon continue to experiment with medical marijuana and legalization, the big shadow remaining over the issue is the federal government and how it plans to enforce drug laws.

Marijuana, of course, still is illegal under federal law — in fact, it continues to be classified as a Schedule I narcotic, listed among the most dangerous illicit drugs we know. This is a designation that dates back to the administration of Richard Nixon and his war on drugs. Regardless of what you think about marijuana, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t deserve that kind of classification.

The Obama administration has been reasonably clear that it doesn’t plan to go out of its way to enforce federal law in those states that have legalized or decriminalized recreational marijuana or allow medical marijuana. But that could change at a moment’s notice or when a new president takes office. And the long-running conflict between federal and state laws continues to leave our drug policy in shambles.

If you’re expecting this Congress and this administration to hack through this tangle with a bold initiative, keep dreaming. But there is legislation before Congress — sponsored by a Republican, no less — that could at least clear the stage for states to move forward with their own marijuana initiatives.

The measure is H.R. 1523, primarily sponsored by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. (Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer is listed as a cosponsor.)

The bill is short — two pages — and relatively simple. (An article in the online news publication Slate quoted Rohrabacher as joking that the bill is so straightforward that “even a congressman can understand it.“)

H.R. 1523, titled the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, would clarify that some provisions of federal law relating to pot do not apply to any person acting in compliance with state laws relating to the “production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.” (Yes, Congress still uses the charmingly old-fashioned spelling “marihuana.“)

In other words, if you’re following the laws of your state regarding, say, medical marijuana, or even laws that regulate marijuana in the same way that alcohol is regulated (the thrust of legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington), you could not be prosecuted under federal drug law.

The proposed law simply would codify the practice followed thus far by the Obama administration.

And by guarding against the possibility that the administration might have a change of heart — or, more likely, that a new administration would have a different view of “marihuana” — it would clear the way for states to continue their experiments with legalization or dispensaries or decriminalization.

Those experiments likely will include a ballot measure (maybe more than one) in November legalizing marijuana in Oregon.

H.R. 1523 is a small but significant step — and one that even Republicans, who are wary of overreaching federal power, can get behind. Congress should pass the bill. (mm)

Mike McInally is the editor of the Democrat-Herald. He can be reached at 541-812-6097 or [email protected]


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