Last week, four-term Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, pitched an interesting proposal to her progressive cohorts in the state legislature: pressure the federal government to "delist" marijuana, currently on the U.S. Department of Justice's list of controlled substances. Word of Sands' budding initiative spread like a weed, popping up in mainstream newspapers and on internet forums such as GrowMedical420, CannabisNews, and WeedWatch. It was as if, in the course of years of debate over medical marijuana, no one had ever given thought to taking the fight for legalization up the chain.
Sands' argument is eloquently simple. Since the feds classify marijuana as an illegal drug, and since the feds oversee enforcement of that classification, there's little the Montana Legislature can do to regulate the medical marijuana boom our state has witnessed over the past year. There's also little the state can do to avoid tense situations involving federal enforcement, like the high profile federal raids on numerous medical marijuana businesses back in March, when the FBI, DEA, and ATF seized everything from pot plants to cash and customer records. Medical marijuana advocates fired back with insinuations of potential states' rights violations.
Montana's ambiguous medical marijuana law certainly didn't help resolve the dispute. Enter the proposal from Sands, who chaired an interim committee last year tasked with studying possible legislative fixes. Sands's push to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances was immediately compared to the West's still-raging wolf debate. That's fitting. As with wolves, delisting marijuana would remove federal oversight and place regulatory power in the hands of state governments. As with wolves, delisting marijuana would allow related decisions to be based on the desires of average Montanans. And, as with wolves, delisting marijuana would theoretically squelch any conflicts between state actions and federal policy.
Unlike delisting wolves, however, Montana's Republican majority probably won't greet marijuana delisting with lock-and-load fervor. Conservatives in both the state house and senate have repeatedly attacked Montana's six-year-old, voter-approved legalization of medical marijuana, and a controversial reform barely made it out of this year's session. The GOP has clearly staked out a war on pot.
Sands's only hope of winning over those who might oppose revisiting the medical marijuana issue could be to take her cue from the wolf debate: delist it, set an annual quota, and open up a public hunt on the devil weed. Marijuana might not be the most cunning game, but at least there won't be any questions about what to do with the hide.