The Obama administration inched toward a more sensible policy on marijuana Monday when Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. ordered federal law enforcement agencies not to devote scarce resources to prosecuting patients and suppliers acting in accordance with state laws that allow medicinal use of the drug.
The new guidelines, outlined in a memorandum to all U.S. attorneys, signal a 180-degree turn from the Bush administration's disdain for the medical marijuana movement. Cannabis is legal, under controlled conditions, in 13 states, yet federal law forbids the drug under the questionable premise that it has no medical value whatsoever.
Unfortunately, Holder didn't go far enough. If it is imprudent for the Justice Department to squander its limited time, personnel and money prosecuting cancer and glaucoma patients in some states, then the guidelines should be applicable to all 50. The administration shouldn't pick and choose states in which to enforce federal law.
That said, the federal energy that has been spent criminalizing the behavior of genuinely ill people who have found relief by using marijuana has been an enormous waste. The flow of drugs between Colombia, Mexico and the U.S. is a far more urgent concern. As Holder acknowledged in his memo, marijuana distribution is the "single largest source of revenue for Mexican drug cartels." Patients growing their own plants and sharing the produce with others in medical marijuana co-ops are hardly a national threat.