Jacob Sullum

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted for a measure that asked the federal government to stop harassing medical marijuana users in California. Minutes later, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided 10 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles County.

The disrespect for local judgments on local matters could not have been starker. Determined to maintain anti-drug orthodoxy, the DEA is running wild in the laboratories of democracy, smashing experiments in reform and injuring innocent bystanders.

The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed this cruel crusade to continue based on the premise that a cancer or AIDS patient who grows a few marijuana plants to relieve his pain or nausea is engaged in interstate commerce and therefore subject to federal regulation. As for Congress, on the day of the L.A. raids, the House once again rejected a measure aimed at restraining the DEA.

Because the two other branches of the federal government have failed to protect medical marijuana patients, their most plausible hope lies in electing a president who is less intent on snatching their medicine. At this point, the Democrats look decidedly more promising than the Republicans in this respect.

According to Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, seven of the eight declared candidates for the Democratic nomination have promised to call off the DEA's medical marijuana raids if elected. The eighth, Barack Obama, has said such raids "probably shouldn't be a high priority."

Three of the nine remaining Republican candidates -- Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo and Tommy Thompson -- oppose the DEA raids. But the rest of the Republicans, including the leading contenders, either have taken no position (Mitt Romney) or have said they would continue the current policy (which, it's worth remembering, has roots in the Clinton administration).

When he was asked about medical marijuana in April, the straight-talking John McCain said, "I will let states decide the issue." Less than three months later, asked whether he would end the DEA's interference with medical marijuana use in the 12 states where it's legal, he already had changed his mind, saying, "Right now my answer to you is no." And in five minutes?

McCain's initial position on medical marijuana was reminiscent of George W. Bush's during his first presidential campaign, when he said, "I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose." At least Bush waited until after he was elected to renege on his promise.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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