MT legislator: Marijuana should be a state issue–Feds should stand down

Montana legislator Diane Sands is floating a radical idea–that the feds should leave the states alone when it comes to medical marijuana. Specifically, she said marijuana should be delisted at the federal level.

Serving as a progressive lesbian Democrat in a state house where Republicans have a 68-32 advantage, she says has taught her a few things.

One of those things is that even though “Republicans can do whatever they want” in the Montana House, there are still a lot of things they, and state legislators in general, cannot do.

Such as get around federal supremacy. “When it comes to medical marijuana in particular, it has occurred to me that we can pass whatever laws and regulations we want, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if the feds decide to come in and shut us down.”

Sands wants to get together with legislators and governors and attorney generals from other states that approved medical marijuana and, as a group, go to their delegations in Washington, and say, “delist marijuana. Take it off the controlled substances list, and let the states regulate it as they see fit.”

“Right now, there is not a medical marijuana business in the country, there is not a patient in the country who is secure in their rights. They may think they are, but they are not. The feds can go into any state at any time and take it away,” she said.

She is going to Washington, D.C. later this month and says she hopes to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder or one of his deputies to discuss her idea. She is looking for other medical marijuana states, like Colorado, to work with her on gaining some traction at the federal level.

About Montana, where voters overwhelmingly passed a medical marijuana law only to see the legislature throw most of it out, she says “People think what the legislature did this year is hogwash. People voted for it, people want it, and they don’t like the heavy-handed legislature taking it back to a grow your own model.”

These days, Sands herself is no hero to the medical marijuana community. She was part of the bipartisan committee that wrote the recently passed reforms that all but eliminates medical marijuana in Montana. She says, though, that she is as unhappy as they are about the new rules, saying simply that things probably would have been even worse if it wasn’t for her work on that committee.

“I’m a practical politician. Marijuana is not that harmful. It is nowhere near as bad as alcohol. There are a lot of people who need marijuana as medicine. I’m also an historian–in particularly I’ve studied prohibition, and it doesn’t work. It has never worked. I believe states can handle regulating marijuana on their own. Some can have liberal rules and some can continue prohibition. It is not an issue that needs federal involvement,” she said.

From the Billings Gazette:

Sands, D-Missoula, proposed the idea in an email sent to some of her Democratic colleagues, and she will send similar notes to Republican legislators and Gov. Brian Schweitzer. She was a leading Democratic legislator on the medical marijuana issue in the 2011 session after chairing an interim committee that studied the issue extensively last year.

“I think this is a unique movement in time to once and for all get this addressed at the federal level,” Sands said in an interview.

In an email to colleagues, she wrote:

“I think we all agree that states have an extremely limited ability to act and regulate medical marijuana, given the U.S. attorney’s most recent letter about the implications of marijuana’s controlled substances status.”

“It seems clear no initiative, state legislation or state court action can expand regulatory authority if the federal government chooses to exercise the Controlled Substances Act restrictions,” Sands said.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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