The national case for the use of medicinal marijuana made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, as the nine justices began to hear arguments stemming from a case out of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal government, led by the Bush administration, brought the appeal to the court and has taken a strong stance against the legalization of the drug. The push for the continued criminalization of marijuana, however, represents nothing more than a continued reliance on a failing and misguided national drug enforcement policy.

While most of the arguments will focus on federalism and states’ rights, the case will also determine the success or failure of California’s medicinal marijuana laws which were passed in 1996. Like Ann Arbor’s own Proposal C, which protects medicinal marijuana users from prosecution, these laws allow patients to grow, harvest and consume limited quantities of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Hardly a dangerous drug cartel, any community that would rely on medicinal marijuana would be quite small and composed of very ill individuals — most of whom have received no relief from legal pharmaceutical alternatives. Take, for example, Angel Reich, one of the plaintiffs in the case. Her physician, Frank Lucido, is quoted as having said that marijuana is “the only drug of almost three dozen we have tried that works” to alleviate the pain stemming from a variety of ailments.

Despite testimonials from Reich, other medicinal marijuana users and many within the medical community, the Bush administration will not be swayed into tempering its dogmatic views on the issue. From the start, the Bush administration has been on the offensive, maintaining that marijuana has no medical value and that it should not be legalized.

After a 2001 case ended the distribution of medicinal marijuana in California, the government was quick to prosecute the medicinal marijuana community. Bush has even lost some of his most loyal political allies in his refusal to defer to state policy. States like Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — states that are by and large staunchly conservative — have all stated their opposition to the Bush administration’s case.

Change is needed. Mandatory sentencing laws and ill-conceived policies have led to rapidly populating and overcrowded federal prisons. With incarceration rates rivaling that of communist China, something must be done. Marijuana, in particular medicinal marijuana, is not the linchpin of the so-called “War on Drugs.” Rather, it is a means by which the medical community can offer relief to those who would otherwise be left to suffer through their ailments.

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