Pubdate: Sun, 08 Apr 2001
Source: Athens Daily News (GA)
Copyright: 2001 Athens Newspapers Inc.


On March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case of whether 
patients may get marijuana as a ''medical necessity'' even though it is an 
illegal drug under federal law.

A ruling for the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club would allow special marijuana 
clubs to resume distributing the drug in California, which passed one of 
the nation's first medical marijuana laws in 1996.

A ruling for the federal government would mean the government could 
prosecute distributors aggressively in federal court, regardless of whether 
states have approved medical marijuana use. That would force providers 
underground or out of business altogether.

Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington also have 
approved ballot initiatives allowing the use of medical marijuana. In 
Hawaii, a similar law was passed by the legislature and signed by the 
governor in June 2000.

Not surprisingly, the case has pitted many patient rights and anti-drug 
advocates against each other.

Some people view marijuana as something akin to a miracle drug that can 
help thousands of people suffering from debilitating pain and nausea. For 
cancer patients, marijuana can curb the nausea associated with 
chemotherapy. As an appetite stimulant, it can help AIDS patients from 
wasting away. For patients in pain, the drug can offer relief without the 
incapacitation some painkillers cause.

Others view marijuana as a part of America's scourge of narcotics, leading 
to violence, addiction, crime and poverty. Many consider arguments for the 
medicinal use of marijuana as an attempt to begin legalizing the drug. If 
marijuana is legal for any one segment of the population, many believe the 
war on drugs will suffer irreparable harm.

In 1970, a federal law was passed that regulated the distribution of 
marijuana. That law also found no medical use for marijuana. The Supreme 
Court ruling, which is expected in June, will determine whether or not 
states can pass laws allowing marijuana use for medicinal purposes even 
though it violates federal law.

As much as people want to make this case a battle over drugs, we believe it 
is really an issue of states' rights. The question at hand is whether or 
not the citizens of a state can decide if there is enough medical evidence 
to support the health benefits of marijuana for patients suffering from 
symptoms related to everything from cancer to glaucoma to multiple sclerosis.

Except in limited cases, such as those of national security and trade, we 
believe state laws should supersede federal laws. We realize there is a 
federal interest in limiting the distribution and sale of illicit drugs. 
However, there is also a state interest in providing medical treatment 
options for its citizens.

Knowing there is a treatment that could help people who are suffering from 
the effects of disease and keeping that relief away from them seems to 
violate any sense of humanity and decency. It would be like withholding a 
hamburger from a hungry person because it might be fattening. We realize 
that marijuana has a history of being used as a recreational drug, but that 
fact should not taint it from being prescribed as a medicinal drug.

With the proper regulatory and distribution measures in place, we believe 
marijuana, like any prescription drug, can be safely provided to patients 
with a doctor's recommendation. Today, a doctor can prescribe dozens of 
extremely powerful and highly addictive painkillers. To prevent fraud or 
abuse, some state and federal agencies track prescriptions of those drugs. 
If a state's law allows medicinal marijuana use, it could be regulated in a 
similar fashion.

There are many people who worry that allowing medical use of marijuana will 
increase its use among people who do not have a prescription for the drug. 
According to a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of 
Medicine, there is no convincing research to support that theory.

''The existing data are consistent with the idea that this would not be a 
problem if the medical use of marijuana were as closely regulated as other 
medications with abuse potential,'' the report stated.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, we hope our federal lawmakers 
will consider changing the law regarding marijuana distribution and allow 
states to each decide whether the drug can be treated as a prescription 
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