Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Urge the Department of Education to Respect Medical Marijuana Rights


by  Andrew Marantz

http://change-production.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/wordpress_copies/criminaljustice/2010/04/uuuse4-250x187.jpgAs Matt Kelley wrote last week, and as any American with a pot prescription knows, marijuana laws in this country are far from cut and dry. Medical marijuana is legal in 14 states, but "legal" is defined differently from state to state, from county to county, and sometimes even from day to day. No matter what states say, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and there is intense debate about whether state law can trump federal law in this case.

Case in point: Last year the University of Montana punished a disabled student for growing marijuana in his dorm room. Medical marijuana is legal in Montana, and the student had a state-issued card allowing him to grow pot for personal use, but the university insisted: no drugs on campus. Though they have not revised this policy, they have since allowed medical marijuana users to opt out of university housing. "We're not unsympathetic to the medical conditions of these people, but we don't have the authority to do anything about it," said David Aronofsky, UM chief legal counsel, told the Missoulian: "State medical marijuana laws can't override the federal laws."

Aronofsky's interpretation is debatable, of course; many legal scholars argue that state laws can override federal ones. In fact, though President Obama has literally laughed at the prospect of legalizing marijuana at the federal level, Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that his office will not bother states that choose to legalize the drug for medical purposes. (The DEA still slips up and raids dispensaries occasionally, but they've gotten better.) Though the legal debate over the supremacy of state law may never be resolved, this is as close as we can get in practice: as long as the relevant federal agencies agree not to contradict a given state law, that state law has more or less trumped federal law.

So where does that leave the University of Montana?

School officials claim they clamped down on medical marijuana use because they feared losing federal funding. There is no precedent of state schools who have been shunned for obeying state law while disobeying federal law. Still, given the ambiguity, this is a possibility. Some administrators — perhaps those who were unfavorably inclined toward marijuana to begin with — might be using this as an opening to enforce their own social agenda.


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