Pubdate: Fri, 24 May 2002
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2002 The Chicago Tribune
Author: Clarence Page,
Note: Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune
Publishing newspaper. His column appears Fridays in The Sun.
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Referenced: and
Please: see Alert: National Columnist Rebuts Drug Czar Fantasies


WASHINGTON - Our nation's drug czar is annoyed. If proponents have
their way, the District of Columbia will vote later this year to
legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes for the second time. John P.
Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, took
some pot shots at the issue in a recent Washington Post piece that has
been reprinted across the country.

Unfortunately, he brings more smoke than light.

"After years of giggling at quaintly outdated marijuana scare stories
like the 1936 movie Reefer Madness," he writes, "we've become almost
conditioned to think that any warning about the true dangers of
marijuana are overblown."

He then proceeds with unintended irony to give an "overblown" warning
of his own about "The Myth of 'Harmless' Marijuana."

He warns baby boomer parents that "today's marijuana is different from
that of a generation ago, with potency levels 10 to 20 times stronger
than the marijuana with which they were familiar."

He doesn't say where he gets that whopper of a statistic, and that's
too bad, since it conflicts with a federally funded investigation of
marijuana samples confiscated by law enforcement over the past two

Published in the January 2000 Journal of Forensic Sciences, that study
found the THC content (that's the active ingredient that gets you
high) had only doubled, from about 2 percent to 4.2 percent, from 1980
to 1997.

Those are not undesirable potency levels when you are using it to
relieve illness. Thousands of patients suffering from HIV, glaucoma,
chemotherapy, migraines, multiple sclerosis or other similarly painful
or nauseating conditions could benefit from legalized marijuana use,
according to the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Yes, marijuana is dangerous. So are cigarettes, liquor and
prescription drugs. The question that Mr. Walters fails to address is
why marijuana should be treated differently from those other drugs.

We allow adults to buy cigarettes and alcohol, even though both are
highly addictive and kill thousands every year. Experts may disagree,
depending on definitions, whether marijuana smoke is "addictive" or
merely "habit-forming," but both sides are hard-pressed to find anyone
who has died of a marijuana overdose.

Doctors treat the ill with numerous prescription drugs that are more
dangerous and addictive than marijuana. But they are not allowed to
treat the ill with marijuana, even though many wish they could.

Instead, thousands of Americans have become criminals by purchasing
marijuana rather than seeing their loved ones suffer.

Yet, Mr. Walters lambastes what he calls the "cynical campaign
underway" in the District of Columbia and elsewhere "to proclaim the
virtues of 'medical' marijuana."

In fact, those "cynical" campaigners include the American Public
Health Association, The New England Journal of Medicine and almost 80
other state and national health-care organizations that support legal
patient access to marijuana for medicinal treatment.

So far, eight states have legalized medical use of marijuana by ballot
initiative or legislation. District of Columbia voters also passed a
referendum in 1998, but it has been blocked by Congress. Where
referendums have been held, they have passed. But, alas, Mr. Walters
is following in the path of past drug czars who feel they know what's
better for voters than the voters themselves do.

Mr. Walters dismisses those initiatives as "based on pseudo-science."
Maybe he did not read the 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine, a
branch of the National Academy of Sciences. It confirmed the
effectiveness of marijuana's active components in treating pain,
nausea and the anorexic-wasting syndrome associated with AIDS.

Mr. Walters says we should wait for more information. He praises a
study now underway at the University of California's Center for
Medicinal Cannabis Research. But if that study doesn't come out the
way Mr. Walters would like, you have to wonder, will he ignore that
one, too?

"By now most Americans realize that the push to 'normalize' marijuana
for medical use is part of the drug legalization agenda," he says,
mentioning financier George Soros and others who have contributed to
the legalization cause. Mr. Walters does not mention the billions of
tax dollars that he, as drug czar, has at his disposal to push
marijuana myths - with our tax money!

Instead, Mr. Walters arouses our passions by recounting the
lawlessness of violent marijuana-dealing street gangs in the District.
If anything, pot gangs offer us another good reason to legalize
marijuana. After all, when a drug is outlawed, only outlaws will have
the drug.
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