WASHINGTON -- Law enforcement officials in four of the states that
allow medical use of marijuana say the laws have had minimal impact on
crimefighting, although they at times complicate prosecution of drug
cases, a congressional report said Friday.

The report by the General Accounting Office said that only a small
fraction of the people in Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska used marijuana for
medical purposes. The results in California, the fourth state studied,
were limited to only four counties and no statewide data were available.

Some law enforcement officials said that while crimefighting was not
harmed, the laws allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana at times has
complicated efforts to seize illegal marijuana or to prosecute some
cases, according to the GAO report.

In some cases, law enforcement officials said the marijuana laws
resulted in "a general softening" in attitudes among the public toward
marijuana, the report said, and some were concerned about conflicts
that arise with federal law enforcement, which still bans the drug.

The GAO examined only four of the eight states that have allowed
medical uses for marijuana. The other states are Nevada, Colorado,
Washington and Maine.

The GAO found that a total of about 2,450 people in Oregon, Hawaii and
Alaska use marijuana for medical purposes -- accounting for no more
than .05 percent of the population in any of the states.

The report provided no statewide data for California. That state's law
does not require medicinal marijuana users to register, although about
4,500 people have done so voluntarily in four of the state's 58
counties, according to the GAO.

In Northern California, Humboldt County officials said marijuana
growers are allowed to grow hundreds of plants while claiming to be a
medical caregiver to multiple patients, and no documentation is required.

Some local law enforcement officials in California questioned how
effectively they could prosecute criminal marijuana cases since the
state has no limit on the amount of marijuana that can be held by a
patient or a caregiver.

While the other three states have established limits, some law
enforcement officials said they too were less likely to pursue cases
that could be shielded by the provisions.

The Bush administration disagreed with some of the report's
findings.

The state marijuana laws have resulted in a "worsening of relations
between federal, state and local law enforcement," Acting Assistant
Attorney General Robert F. Diegelman wrote the review of the report.

The laws create "legal loopholes for drug dealers and marijuana
cultivators to avoid arrest and prosecution," he said.

Data from the three states that require registries -- Oregon, Hawaii
and Alaska -- showed that over 70 percent of medicinal marijuana users
from each state were at least 40 years old.

In Hawaii and Oregon, where information on gender was kept, about 70
percent of users in each state were male, according to the report.

Both states also showed most of their patients were taking marijuana
to treat severe pain and persistent muscle spasms. Such information
was not available for Alaska or California.

The GAO conducted its study from September 2001 to June.


Pubdate: Sat, 30 Nov 2002
Source: Deseret News (UT)
Copyright: 2002 Deseret News Publishing Corp.
Contact: letters@desnews.com
Website: http://www.desnews.com/