February 24, 2013

Our View: State and federal law should be aligned on medical pot

A wink from federal prosecutors is not enough to protect the legal rights of Maine patients.

The disconnect between federal law and state law when it comes to marijuana was on display again recently in a lawsuit filed by a Pittsfield woman who says she lost her job for receiving medical care.

Brittany Thomas alleges that she was refused rehire following a layoff when she failed a urine test for marijuana. Thomas is a registered medical marijuana user under state law.

Thomas, who suffers from extreme back pain, came to marijuana after finding narcotic painkillers to have too many side effects, including potential addiction. An irony of this case is that Thomas would not have lost her job if she had been using Food and Drug Administration-approved opiates, even though those drugs would be far more disruptive to her performance on the job.

The problem Thomas and other medical marijuana users face is that while the substance has been cleared for therapeutic use in Maine and 15 other states, it is still illegal under federal law.

Not that anyone is worried about prosecution. The U.S. Department of Justice has all but said that it would not go after medical marijuana users or suppliers in states where it is legal, and Washington state officials say the U.S. attorney general has all but absolved them from prosecution as they set up a first-in-the-nation recreational marijuana program that was approved by voters last year. A bill to give Maine voters a chance to do the same thing here is now before the Legislature.

But as the Thomas case suggests, as long as conflicting laws are on the books, people will suffer.

Members of Congress may not have this high on their to-do list, but inaction is putting their constituents on the spot. This conflict can't be tolerated much longer.


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