California, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have placed their residents in legal jeopardy over the sale and possession of marijuana for medical purposes. Now two of those states — Washington and Colorado — have done the same for recreational use. It’s time for Congress to either adopt a more federalist approach to marijuana laws, or to reiterate that the plant is an illegal controlled substance.
Washington and Colorado voters approved pot-possession initiatives in last month’s elections. But the marijuana story that created the most election buzz this year was the endorsement of Mitt Romney by the creator of the comic strip “Dilbert,” Scott Adams. It was a “firing offense,” Adams wrote, for President Obama to put “an American citizen in jail for 10 years to life for operating medical marijuana dispensaries in California where it is legal under state law.”
Adams was referring to the case of Aaron Sandusky of Rancho Cucamonga, who was operating dispensaries in Upland, Colton and Moreno Valley. He was convicted in federal court in October on charges including conspiracy to manufacture and possess with intent to distribute marijuana. He received a sentence of 10 years to life.
Sandusky’s prosecution demonstrates the legal ambiguity under which medical marijuana dispensaries and patients now conduct their business. The state says what they’re doing is legal. The federal government says it’s illegal. And whether buyer and seller go home to their families at night or go to prison depends in large part on the attitude of the local U.S. attorney.