Pubdate: Fri, 11 Oct 2002
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2002 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Ethan Nadelmann
Note: Ethan Nadelmann is executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a 
New York-based organization that promotes alternatives to the war on drugs 
based on science, compassion, public health and human rights.
Bookmark: (Ashcroft, John)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


The war on drugs keeps getting bigger and meaner. Just when you think the 
tide is beginning to turn, someone in charge takes it a step further. What 
happened in California last month could happen in Washington soon.

On Sept. 5, Drug Enforcement Administration agents armed with automatic 
weapons raided a hospice on the outskirts of Santa Cruz because it grew and 
used marijuana for its patients, most of them terminally ill.

The founder and director, Valerie Corral, who uses marijuana herself to 
control debilitating seizures as a result of head trauma following a 1973 
car accident, was taken away in her pajamas. Suzanne Pfeil, a paraplegic 
patient suffering from postpolio syndrome, was told to stand up and then 
handcuffed in bed when she could not. All the plants were destroyed.

Of all the medical-marijuana clubs, this was the one most true to the 
hospice spirit. It was a collective, run on a nonprofit basis. Valerie and 
her husband had created a place that brought peace, love and some measure 
of freedom from pain to those who came. Like the Brompton Cocktails found 
in British hospices, which can contain heroin or morphine, cocaine, alcohol 
and other pharmaceutical ingredients, the medicine was unconventional but 

Valerie's hospice was legal under California law, a product of Proposition 
215, the 1996 ballot initiative in which 56 percent of voters endorsed the 
legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. She was and is a member of 
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's 1999 medical marijuana policy 
task force. Her hospice was run openly with cooperation from state and 
local authorities.

The DEA's raid, and the clear directive from the Bush administration and 
Attorney General John Ashcroft to assault and close this facility and 
others, is a travesty of justice - one that did much to terrorize American 
citizens and absolutely nothing to protect or improve their health, welfare 
or safety.

More than two-thirds of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal 
for medical purposes. Medical-marijuana initiatives have won in all eight 
states where they've been on the ballot, and would likely win in all but a 
handful. The Canadian government is taking steps to make marijuana 
available to patients north of our border.

Federal drug policy now lies in the hands of those who might best be 
described as the John Birchers of the drug war. Today's drug-war 
politicians are out of step with the public but they don't care. They're on 
their own crusade, one in which marijuana is as sinful as miscegenation was 
to the Southern racists.

They're also practitioners of the big lie. "On the face of it," says John 
Walters, director of the federal Office on National Drug Control Policy, 
"the idea that desperately sick people could be helped by smoking an 
intoxicating weed seems ... medieval. It is, in fact, absurd."

Never mind thousands of reports by patients and doctors, dozens of studies 
and the National Academy of Sciences' conclusion that marijuana is 
therapeutically effective for a number of painful, chronic and terminal 
medical conditions for which pharmaceutical drugs are often ineffective or 
introduce negative side effects.

The hundreds of thousands of Americans who use marijuana for medical 
reasons, and the doctors who care for them, deserve a hearing in which they 
can defend their use of this unconventional medicine. They deserve the 
opportunity to give sworn testimony, and to confront the sworn testimony of 
those who persecute them. That's a job for Congress.

The raid on the Santa Cruz medical marijuana facility was, of course, about 
more than marijuana. It's part and parcel of the same insanity that drives 
the bigger war on drugs ... one that now incarcerates more people for 
drug-law violations in the United States than all of Western Europe (with a 
much larger population) incarcerates for all crimes; one that prefers to 
sacrifice tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars rather than 
make sterile syringes legally available to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS.

More than that, it provides insight into the potential abuse of police 
power in another war without end on which we have now embarked. Ashcroft 
ordered a raid on a medical-marijuana hospice not because he had to, but 
because he possessed both the will and the power to do so. A Congress and a 
country preoccupied with many other concerns barely noticed.

Is the Santa Cruz raid, and more generally the war on drugs, a preview of 
what lies ahead in the war on terrorism? Is the future one in which 
increasingly empowered and emboldened federal police agencies intimidate, 
arrest and even terrorize not just those who pose true threats to security, 
but also those who challenge little more than the moralistic convictions 
and political prejudices of power-holders in the nation's capital?

I live for the day when our children will look back on the drug wars of 
today the way we now look back on Jim Crow and the Palmer raids after World 
War I, the Japanese American internment camps of World War II and the 
McCarthyite persecutions of the 1950s. That is my moral crusade, one shared 
by more and more other Americans as well.
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