Fourteen states, including Washington and Oregon, have made it legal to use marijuana for medical use.
But since federal law supersedes state law, those using marijuana to treat the pain of cancer treatments or for other medical uses could be arrested and prosecuted. And many have over the past eight years.
This week the federal Department of Justice issued new -- and welcome -- guidelines that make it clear those who are following state medical marijuana laws will not be prosecuted.
However, the guidelines all for federal agents to go after people who are distributing marijuana beyond what is permitted under state laws or those who are using those laws to cover their crimes.
This policy shift by the Obama administration is reasonable. The previous policy, which treated all marijuana distribution as a federal crime, was ridiculous.
Medical marijuana has little to do with the serious problem of illegal drug use. It's about providing relief from pain and nausea just like any other medication.
Most people correctly sees this as only a medical issue, which is why so many states have medical marijuana laws, most of which were approved by voters.
These laws, however, are far from perfect. Some abuses are occurring. In California, for example, the law is so lax that it is dispensed out of stores and not always to those who are really sick or in great pain. Claiming to have a bad back or bum knees is sometimes all it takes.
This, of course, isn't right. But neither is wasting millions of dollars trying to catch a few small-time drug users who are scamming the system.
The longterm solution is for the federal government to allow marijuana for medical purposes to be distributed by a doctor's prescription just like morphine and codeine. Those who are truly sick would get the medicine they need and those just looking for a high could -- and would -- be arrested.
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