Thursday, January 14, 2010

Medical Marijuana and "hypocrisy"

"I would rather have legalization than have that widespread government-sanctioned hypocrisy,” Attorney General John Suthers said in Wednesday’s Denver Post, regarding action the legislature might or might not take on medical marijuana this session. But when did it become the attorney general’s job to police “hypocrisy,” rather than criminality? If that’s his job he could charge himself with a violation, based on that statement alone.

Suthers opposes legalization of any kind, even if it would end the alleged “hypocrisy.” He has for as long as I’ve been paying attention. He’s simply having trouble adapting to new realities, so he wants to roll the clock back as far and as fast as he can. He has plenty of colleagues in law enforcement (and a good number of politicians) willing to join him in that effort. But there’s a bit of “hypocrisy” on that side as well.

Americans can dose themselves and their children with massive quantities of any pharmacy-bought drug — drugs that are widely abused and aren’t always safe, even with FDA approval. They can sop their brains with alcohol, as long as they don’t get behind the wheel while under the influence. But if some of them find answers to their physical or psychological maladies in the “evil weed,” Suthers raises red flags.

Does that constitute “hypocrisy”? It’s “inconsistency,” or a case of “cognitive dissonance,” at the very least.

Medical marijuana use has been legal in Colorado for nearly a decade, like it or not. Yet providers and patients have had to operate in the shadows, fearing that abiding by the state Constitution would invite a federal drug bust. And Suthers, who is sworn to uphold the state Constitution, was content with that arrangement, in which a legal, constitutionally-sanctioned activity was treated as an illegal one. He was content to have law-abiding Coloradans slink around like common criminals. Instead of siding with Coloradans, and Colorado’s Constitution, Suthers and his predecessors sided with the George W. Bush Justice Department, which was also stuck in the “just say no” era.

Does that constitute “hypocrisy”? Some might say so.

The AG’s major complaint about MMJ, as I understand it, is that it’s all a giant scam—a back door path to legalization. He, like a lot of law enforcers, look back fondly on a time when the “drug war” battle lines were boldly drawn in the sand. Use of pot for any purposes was prohibited. Drug-busters were the good guys, marijuana-users the bad. Partial legalization complicates their jobs. It’s disorienting. It goes against deeply ingrained (but largely personal) prejudices.

Suthers is nostalgic for that simpler time, because it made his job easier. But policy isn’t and shouldn’t be made for the convenience of attorney generals. His personal prejudices about pot and potheads are largely beside the point. And if he can’t adapt to the new situation, and defend Colorado’s Constitution, he should go back to private practice.

I’m not an advocate for medical marijuana, or non-medical marijuana. I don’t doubt there’s some abuse of the new system (such as it is) going on. And, yes, I’m sure some out there view the medical marijuana movement as a circuitous route to full legalization. But I am an advocate for freedom, reason, limited government, states’ rights and constitutionalism (both state and federal), which in this case puts me at odds with an attorney general who (at least on paper) espouses some of these same values.

Is it “government-sanctioned hypocrisy” to move forward – to deal with the new reality constructively, creatively and compassionately? I see far greater hypocrisy in claiming to uphold the state Constitution with one hand, while trying to undermine it with the other.

Thanks to the Denver Post for publishing a version of this post today.

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