The Attorney General seldom discusses federal policy regarding medical marijuana, so even a brief remark is enough to get my attention. His latest comments at an event in Missoula were hardly groundbreaking, but interesting nonetheless.
Holder said he made a decision early on that the scarce federal resources would not be used in going after the people who used marijuana according to their state's laws.
"To treat chronic illnesses, to alive pain from live-ending illnesses, but made clear that we were not going to allow those laws to be used in a way to cover activity that was criminal in nature," Holder said. [KPAX News]
We're all pretty familiar by now with Holder's lead talking point that targeting legitimate medical marijuana patients and providers is a poor use of "scarce federal resources" that could be spent jailing other people instead. It's a barely-tolerable position that carries with it the tragic implication that we would perhaps resume such persecutions if only our budget would allow it.
Fortunately, here we find a rare concession from the Attorney General that medical marijuana is actually used "to treat chronic illnesses." This isn't a particularly startling revelation to anyone who hasn't struggled to remain willfully ignorant on the subject, but it certainly exposes the absurdity of marijuana's placement in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which requires that the drug have no accepted medical use. When the CSA's primary enforcer is acknowledging legitimate medical applications and declining to exercise prosecutorial authority, that sets a rather remarkable precedent.
I'm not suggesting that we be naÃ¯ve about the threat of federal harassment that the patient community continues to face. The fight isn't over and won't be until medical cannabis users are no longer considered criminals anywhere in America. But winning that battle requires that we take seriously even the most subtle rhetorical shifts in the debate we started decades ago. When the top law enforcement official in the nation acknowledges that marijuana is medicine, that's a victory for us, and one that seemed all but impossible in the very recent past. Though it may seem like a minor concession in the face of overwhelming evidence and continued drug war excesses, Holder's remark reflects the gradual maturation of the medical marijuana debate and we're lost if we fail to notice it.