Pubdate: Sat, 05 May 2001
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


It has been 2 1/2 years since Maine voters passed a citizen-initiated 
medical marijuana referendum. The argument in favor was strong -- 
compassion demands that people suffering from pain and nausea associated 
with treatments for such diseases as cancer, AIDS and glaucoma be allowed 
to use a drug that has been found to provide some relief. The argument 
against also was strong -- the law requires that medicines prescribed and 
sold must first be found safe and effective in the laboratory, not merely 
popular in the voting booth.

The argument not made is the one that continues to win -- nothing the 
voters and legislators of this state or any other state can do will matter 
as long as the federal government refuses to budge from its long-held 
position that, of all the drugs that have the potential both to help the 
sick and to be abused, marijuana is one that will remain forbidden. Since 
California led the way in 1996, eight states have passed medical marijuana 
laws but the threat of federal retribution against physicians, patients and 
the states themselves is as strong as ever.

Signs of reefer madness were evident in Washington as recently as late 
March. That's when the Supreme Court heard arguments in the federal case 
against the Oakland Cannabis Cooperative, one of California's medical 
marijuana distribution outlets.

Although a lower federal court has ruled that states should be able to 
determine when medical necessity outweighs prohibition, federal law 
enforcement continues to maintain that no amount of pain and suffering 
should trump the possibility that somewhere someone might just be getting 
high. A decision is expected within weeks and it will be interesting to see 
how the high court rules, given its selective and increasingly 
unpredictable approach to states' rights issues.

At the same time, a congressional panel held a hearing on medical 
marijuana. How the House Government Reform Committee's criminal justice 
subcommittee will rule is not so much in doubt -- Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., 
called a leading medical marijuana spokesman an "advocate for an evil 
position" and ranking member Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga, called medical marijuana 
supporters "despicable," without one other member raising a word of protest.

Since this subcommittee's recommendation will be crucial in determining 
whether the ban on possessing marijuana will be eased enough to allow the 
necessary research to understand the drug's medicinal value and perhaps to 
eventually develop nonsmoking delivery systems, the outlook is not good.

Which leaves Maine lawmakers in the unenviable position of having to 
implement a law mandated by their constituents in direct opposition to 
federal law and policy -- and to do so under a new administration that has 
given indications it embraces the Souder/Barr viewpoint.

Members of the Maine Legislature's Health and Human Services and Criminal 
Justice committees did as well as can be expected in this difficult 
situation by endorsing a bill, LD 611, to establish a state-sanctioned 
marijuana growing and distribution system -- to expect the sick and dying 
to buy marijuana from street dealers is simply cruel. The full House and 
Senate likewise have a humanitarian obligation to pass this bill and Gov. 
King, who has stated his opposition to medical marijuana, should sign it.

It would be far better, of course, if marijuana could be tested for 
efficacy and dosage as are other drugs, including opiates, and if 
physicians could write prescriptions without fear of federal charges. But 
for now all Maine and the other states can do is to act with compassion and 
rationality and to hope that the federal government soon does the same.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager