Don't like the law? Change it

It was almost a cliche in those old westerns — the local sheriff who stood in the middle of the dusty street and declared, "I'm the law in these parts." In the old West that may have been true; today, a county sheriff's role is much more constrained.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters' job is to observe and enforce the law as it is, not as Winters thinks it ought to be. On Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Mark Schiveley correctly told Winters as much when he ordered the sheriff to renew a concealed handgun license for a Central Point woman who uses medical marijuana.

Winters had denied the renewal application because Cynthia Willis had truthfully answered a question about marijuana use, explaining that she used the drug medicinally under a doctor's prescription as Oregon law allows.

Winters argued in court that federal law lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic with "no currently accepted medical use for treatment," and that Willis' response to the questionnaire amounted to an admission that she would be convicted of a felony if prosecuted under federal law.

Schiveley ruled that state handgun license statutes "do not purport to overrule, or in any other way address, who may lawfully possess a weapon under federal law," and that without a direct conflict, the federal law does not pre-empt state law.

Willis is not a convicted felon, Schiveley said, and it is not the court's role to rewrite state law.

This is not the first time Winters has taken it upon himself to decide what state law ought to say. When this newspaper requested the names of concealed handgun license holders — a public record under state law — Winters refused, saying he was acting to protect the privacy of license holders. The law, however, does not allow him to do that.

In the latest case, Winters clearly disapproves of the medical marijuana law passed by Oregon voters. He's entitled to that point of view. He's not entitled to disregard the law because of it.

If he disagrees with a law, he should convince the Legislature to change it.

Critics of court rulings with which they disagree often bemoan "activist judges" who make law from the bench to suit some perceived political bias. In this case, Judge Schiveley did exactly what the courts are designed to do — decide what the law is and apply it to the facts of the case before them.

What we have here is not an activist judge, but an activist sheriff.

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