Pubdate: Fri, 19 Dec 2003
Source: National Review Online (US Web)
Copyright: 2003 National Review
Author: Doug Bandow
Note: Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former 
Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
Cited: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Walters v. Conant)


Forget the War on Drugs Already.

On Tuesday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals barred federal
prosecution of those using marijuana under a doctor's care. Smoking
pot under such circumstances is "different in kind from drug
trafficking," stated the court: "this limited use is clearly distinct
from the broader illicit drug market."

The U.S. Supreme Court recently let stand a lower court ruling barring
Uncle Sam from punishing doctors who prescribe medical marijuana.
California's new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, admits to past drug
use. Radio host Rush Limbaugh has sought drug treatment, forcing even
prohibitionist conservatives to acknowledge the pervasiveness of drug
abuse. The war on drugs is going badly.

Last year 19.5 million Americans used drugs. Some 14.6 million people
smoked marijuana; despite the law; assorted police stings, operations,
and campaigns; hundreds of thousands of arrests; and overflowing prisons.

The U.S. is increasingly alone in prosecuting marijuana users. The
Netherlands has long tolerated personal possession and allowed
cannabis coffee shops. Pot is now available as a prescription drug at
pharmacies. Spain no longer arrests recreational drug users; Portugal
has decriminalized marijuana use. So has Luxembourg.

Belgium allows the medical use of marijuana and is considering
permitting citizens to grow small amounts of pot. Local authorities in
France and Germany decide whether or not to arrest cannibis users.
Germany even allows hard-drug use in legal "drug-consumption rooms."
In Britain police increasingly confiscate marijuana but leave the
users alone; new guidelines embody a "presumption against arrest."

The Swiss senate has approved legislation legalizing personal use of
cannabis. The Australian and New Zealand governments are considering
approving the medical use of marijuana.

Canada provides marijuana through its health-care program and has
proposed decriminalizing pot cultivation and consumption. As in
Britain, police in Toronto merely confiscate pot from users.

And in the U.S., an Alaskan appellate court has affirmed the
constitutional right of citizens to grow and consume marijuana at
home. Arizona, Connecticut, Michigan, North Dakota, and other states
have relaxed their penalties for drug use and sale.

A new Maryland law, signed by conservative Republican Gov. Robert L.
Ehrlich, sharply reduces the punishment for people who use marijuana
for medicinal purposes. Nine states have fully legalized the medical
use of marijuana, a policy supported by three fourths of Americans.
Legislation introduced by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Ca.) and Maurice
Hinchey (D., N.Y.) to bar federal raids on medical-marijuana patients
and providers received 152 votes, up from the 93 votes which opposed a
condemnation of medical-marijuana laws in 1998. The federal
government's ability to interfere with state medical-marijuana
policies has been limited by the courts.

Moreover, the establishment edifice undergirding prohibition is
cracking. Conservative Republican Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico
became the first sitting governor to advocate legalization of drug
use. Last year more than 400 past and present judges and
law-enforcement officers formed Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
LEAP's head, Jack Cole, who spent 26 years with the New Jersey State
Police, observes: "illicit drugs are easier to get, cheaper, and more
potent than they were 30 years ago. ... Meanwhile, people are dying in
our streets and drug barons grow richer than ever before."

Why government tosses pot smokers in jail while tolerating use of
alcohol and cigarettes, far more dangerous substances by most
measures, has never been obvious. There is good reason for people to
abstain from all of them; there is no good reason to imprison them if
people do not.

The pervasiveness of illicit-drug use was demonstrated by Rush
Limbaugh's announcement that he was seeking treatment for an addiction
to pain-killing medication. Some of his conservative defenders, like
Gary Bauer, argued that an addiction arising from an illness or injury
is different than one growing out of recreational-use, but in both
cases morally accountable individuals choose to procure -- illegally
- -- regulated substances which cause pleasure. The undoubted appeal of
drugs does not eliminate responsibility for buying and consuming them
in either case.

Moreover, those using marijuana as medicine have as good an argument
for compassion as does Rush Limbaugh. Although some people view
medical marijuana as a means of eventually legalizing recreational pot
use, most users turn to marijuana as a last resort.

For instance, Angela McClary Raich of Oakland, California smokes
marijuana to combat nausea and other consequences of her treatment for
brain cancer. "She has tried essentially all other legal alternatives
to cannabis, and the alternatives have been ineffective or result in
intolerable side effects," says her physician, Dr. Frank Lucido. A
nurse suggested that she try pot: "Marijuana is my miracle," Raich

Daniel Kane, also of Oakland, suffers from AIDS-wasting syndrome.
"Even now, I get this sort of tingling in my body thinking about what
we have achieved" by using marijuana, he says.

Teddy Hiteman of Henderson, Nevada, suffers from MS. "Medicinal pot
has been a godsend," she says. A Republican who voted for George W.
Bush, she observes: "I wish we had more conservatives who would

Michael Ferrucci of Livermore, California, has lung and testicular
cancer. Pot "has been far more beneficial to me than other medications
they have recommended to me, including powerful narcotics like
morphine, Demoral and codeine."

San Francisco's Judith Cushner has endured breast and uterine cancer.
Of the Supreme Court ruling, she remarked, "It took seven years to get
this far. Cancer moves a lot faster than that."

Although opinions are not unanimous, there is substantial medical
evidence indicating the medical efficacy of marijuana. The American
Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs has reported that
"anecdotal, survey, and clinical data" demonstrate marijuana's medical
usefulness. The National Institutes of Health stated that "Marijuana
looks promising enough to recommend that there be new controlled
studies done." Groups ranging from the American Cancer Society to
Kaiser Permanente support access to or research on medical marijuana.

Individual doctors agree. In one survey, more than 70 percent of
American cancer specialists said they would prescribe marijuana if it
were legal; nearly half said they have urged their patients to acquire
the drug irrespective of the law. A poll of the British Medical
Association yielded similar results.

The New England Journal of Medicine has backed access to medical
marijuana. In May Lancet Neurology pointed out that marijuana had
proved effective against pain in lab tests and could become "the
aspirin of the 21st Century." In a recent issue of Brain journal,
researchers at London's Institute of Neurology reported: "In addition
to symptom management, cannabis may also slow down the
neurodegenerative processes that ultimately lead to chronic disability
in multiple sclerosis and probably other diseases." Policy analyst
Paul Armentano reports that an Oxford University study published in
Clinical Rehabilitation found that marijuana aided MS patients in
bladder relief, pain relief, and spasticity.

Earlier this year the American Nursing Association supported
legalizing access to therapeutic marijuana. So did the New York State
Association of County Health Officials.

This doesn't mean there aren't risks in smoking pot, or that it is the
best medicine for everyone under all circumstances. But marijuana
should be a legal option in a society that styles itself both
compassionate and free.

Allowing the medical use of marijuana wouldn't even prevent the
government from punishing recreational users, however misbegotten that
policy may be. The sick are demonstrably different. Moreover, after
interviewing 37 law-enforcement agencies, the General Accounting
Office found that the majority "indicated that medical-marijuana laws
has had little impact on their law-enforcement activities."

When he ran for president, George W. Bush said laws regarding the
medical use of marijuana were matters for the states: "I believe each
state can choose that decision as they so choose." Although he said he
opposed such laws, he criticized the Clinton administration, which
sought to undermine such initiatives at every turn.

But the Bush administration has taken an entirely different stance.
Reports Dean Murphy of the New York Times: "Federal agents have raided
farms where medicinal marijuana is grown, closed cooperatives where it
is distributed and threatened to punish doctors who discussed it with
their patients." Uncle Sam also has prosecuted obviously ill people who
have dared use marijuana to ease their nausea or pain. California
Attorney General Bill Lockyer complains that "The decision to continue
federal raids on medicinal marijuana providers when there is no
evidence that the operation is actually engaged in illicit commercial
distribution is wasteful, unwise and surprisingly insensitive when it
comes to listening to Californians who have made clear their support
for medicinal marijuana at the ballot box."

Nevertheless, Karen Tandy, recently appointed to head the Drug
Enforcement Administration, rejected criticism of federal interference
with state laws allowing medical use of marijuana. Why should
Washington respect federalism when doing so would restrict its ability
to jail the sick?

Indeed, the Bush administration appealed the Ninth Circuit ruling
barring the DEA from lifting licenses to prescribe controlled
substances for doctors who prescribe marijuana in accordance with
state law. Ten doctors, six patients, and two groups filed suit,
winning at the appellate court level-yielding the decision which was
affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Interestingly, a larger proportion of Republicans than Democrats
supported legalizing the medical use of marijuana when voting in
Alaska, California, Colorado, and Nevada. In fact, Rep. Rohrabacher
says that "I have no doubt that if there were a secret ballot on this,
a lot of Republicans would vote along with [liberal Massachusetts
Democrat] Barney Frank." But they are afraid of political

Alas, Democratic presidential contenders Howard Dean, John Edwards,
and John Kerry have all proved to be as unsympathetic as Republican
politicians. Only long-shot Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) has come
out forthrightly against jailing the sick. Neither party has a
monopoly on philosophical principle or political courage.

"Marijuana is still an illegal drug," says Richard Meyer of the DEA.
"We will continue doing our job." And that means preventing the sick
and dying from using the only medicine that works for many of them.

For these drug warriors punishing drug users is far more important
than healing the sick. In appealing the Ninth Circuit ruling to the
U.S. Supreme Court, Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson called the
issue one "of exceptional and continuing importance" since the
decision "impairs the Executive's authority to enforce the law in an
area vital to the public health and safety." Drug Czar John Walters
has even threatened Canada with intrusive border searches, delaying
traffic south: "It is my job to protect Americans from dangerous threats."

But the drug laws are the real dangerous threats to public health and
safety. The only way to protect the public is to guarantee the right
of the sick to use marijuana and to stop jailing pot smokers who just
want to get high. Nothing would be served by imprisoning Rush Limbaugh
for his apparent legal transgressions, just as we all are poorer for
the millions of people jailed in the government's misbegotten war on
drugs over the years. We should treat drug use as a medical, moral,
and spiritual issue -- not a criminal one.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake