Pubdate: Thu, 26 Sep 2002
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2002 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Froma Harrop
Note: Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly 
on editorial pages of The Times.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


The Bush administration seems to have gotten its war all right, only it's 
on California. The natives are in full revolt over marijuana, inhaling for 
all to see - especially U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. They say his 
raids on California marijuana clubs will not stop them.

The first skirmish took place in Santa Cruz, the university beach town 
known for open-mindedness (within politically correct boundaries). In bold 
defiance of federal policy, Mayor Christopher Krohn stood before City Hall 
and directed a distribution of medical marijuana to allegedly ill citizens. 
People smoked pot on the lawn. (Cigarette smokers were steered to the 
sidewalk.) The unrest has since spread to other California cities.

Although nine states have approved the use of medical marijuana, Ashcroft 
has concentrated the weight of the anti-drug bureaucracy on California. His 
agents have busted marijuana clubs in West Hollywood, Oakland, San 
Francisco, Sebastapol and, most recently, Santa Cruz. California Attorney 
General Bill Lockyer characterized the raids as "punitive expeditions."

Some of you might think that federal law enforcement would have its hands 
full chasing down terrorists bent on mass destruction. Stoned Californians 
can wait for another day. Well, Ashcroft says he's on to both. He is 
perfectly capable of flicking on the orange terrorism alert then sending 
federal agents to weed out marijuana plants in hostile California territory.

Perhaps the two wars can be combined. For example, Ashcroft could work up a 
profiling system for pot users. Was the passport issued in Austin, Madison 
or Portland? How about background checks for schools attended, subjects 
studied, libertarian leanings?

Certain states of origin should raise red flags. Colorado, California, 
Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, Maine and Hawaii have all 
approved medical use of marijuana. Their residents might harbor the 
subversive view that states may make their own drug laws. And they may not 
appreciate that the Office of National Drug Control Policy spends $11 
billion a year on marijuana prohibition. That kind of budget must be defended.

As in most conflicts, no side is without fault. Yes, in a rational world, 
the Justice Department would transfer its passion for eradicating marijuana 
to finding anthrax. But it would be also nice, for reasons of elevating the 
discussion, if the pot advocates would diversify their interests. Marijuana 
is not exactly the staff of life, and some honesty in discussing its legal 
status would be much appreciated.

There's much righteous talk about medical marijuana - patients' urgent need 
to ease their discomforts with pot. The medical issue is just a wedge for 
allowing anyone to smoke pot for any reason. That's fine with me, but let's 
just say it and dispense with the dramatics.

"I have to have marijuana to stay alive," a 35-year-old American, sitting 
in a cafe in Vancouver, B.C., tells a reporter. He claims pot alleviates 
pain from spinal injuries suffered in an Army parachuting accident. Surely, 
his doctors have a pill that would do the same job, but he has applied for 
asylum in Canada.

Pot-smoking Americans who move to Canada often portray themselves as 
political refugees. Some compare their plight to slaves escaping to freedom 
via the Underground Railroad. Not quite. Many are fleeing drug charges in 
the United States.

Steve Kubby, Libertarian Party candidate for California governor in 1998, 
counts himself among the persecuted. He says he suffers from adrenal cancer 
and asserts, "If I don't smoke pot, my blood pressure goes through the roof 
and would either burst a blood vessel or cause a heart attack."

Canada, by the way, has not fully legalized marijuana, though a committee 
in the Canadian Senate has recommended that course of action. The 
government has sensibly decided not to spend precious resources going after 
pot smokers who aren't bothering anyone.

On this side of the border, meanwhile, citizens still chip away at punitive 
marijuana laws. Nevadans will vote this November on letting adults possess 
up to three ounces of marijuana, whether they are sick or not. They just 
wouldn't be allowed to smoke in public or drive under the influence of pot. 
Voters in Ohio, Michigan and Arizona will consider proposals to ease 
penalties for possession of marijuana.

No one here is calling marijuana a wonder drug. But the weed doesn't seem 
so awful that we have to arrest 700,000 Americans a year on pot charges. 
America's law-enforcement personnel have other battles to fight. Let's 
bring the boys home from California.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager