Pubdate: Fri, 21 Feb 2003
Source: Forward (US)
Copyright: 2003 Forward
Author: Ed Rosenthal
Note: Ed Rosenthal, a columnist, is the author and editor of more than a 
dozen books. He is currently awaiting sentencing following his conviction 
on three felony charges for his participation in implementing California's 
medical marijuana program.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


There is no doubt among knowledgeable physicians and researchers that 
marijuana is a medicine. It has proven anti-spasmodic, analgesic and 
anti-nausea properties, and has an incredible safety record. There are no 
recorded deaths from its use and overindulgence results in drowsiness and a 
sound sleep.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, we have an especially high 
percentage of HIV/AIDS cases. Three of my own neighbors have died from this 
disease. Although there was interest in marijuana as a medicine for 
glaucoma and other conditions before the epidemic, it was marijuana's 
unique qualities in relieving AIDS symptoms that first attracted patients 
to it. It allowed them to take their drug cocktail and still lead regular 
lives. Tens of thousands of victims of HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, 
muscular dystrophy and cancer therapy find marijuana to be the only 
medicine that relieves pain and nausea without drugging them into 

The federal government, though, contends that there is no such thing as 
"medical marijuana." It closed the doors to new applicants for its Federal 
Compassionate Use Program, which dispenses government-approved marijuana, 
when floods of applications came in from HIV/AIDS patients. When 
nongovernmental compassion programs began to form and states approached the 
issue, the federal government and its drug agency, the Drug Enforcement 
Administration, claimed that medical cannabis was just a ruse, and that 
medical providers who distributed marijuana were merely sophisticated 
street dealers.

There are several reasons why the federal government opposes legalization. 
They revolve around politics and ideology rather than science and 
experience. First and foremost, though, it is an issue of jobs.

Just a few facts bring this into perspective. Seven percent of the total 
criminal justice system expenditures are spent jailing marijuana users. 
Total government expenditures on marijuana law enforcement are $15 billion 
a year. In 2002, there were 735,000 arrests on marijuana charges, and 88% 
of those arrests were for simple possession. Today there are 100,000 
prisoners serving time for marijuana convictions. Think of the number of 
police officers, judges, lawyers and prison guards -- not to mention prison 
construction firms and other providers of basic prison services -- who are 
employed through marijuana's criminalization.

It is apparent by any measure that the marijuana laws are more harmful to 
society and to the individual than the behavior they are attempting to 
regulate. Yet the federal government views any legalization of marijuana, 
even for sick people, as a threat to its prohibition -- in which it has a 
vested interest. No matter that medicinal and recreational use are separate 
issues, just as they are with opiates and other drugs -- official rhetoric 
about the issue of marijuana suggests that the general populace is unable 
to make such a distinction.

In actuality, the DEA and federal officials are the ones who are unwilling 
to make this distinction. Acknowledging that marijuana has any medicinal 
use undermines the DEA's categorization of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, 
a category that is reserved for highly addictive drugs with no safe 
medicinal applications. If the medicinal value of marijuana were 
acknowledged, marijuana would have to be placed in a less restrictive 
category -- such as Schedule 2, along with morphine, cocaine and 
methamphetamines. The government claims that acknowledging the medicinal 
value of marijuana would weaken marijuana laws as a whole.

The Bible also has quite a few laws. Most of them are admonitions against 
sins of commission. We learn about people who commit these sins all the 
time in the news: robbers, murderers, liars and other miscreants. These are 
the easy laws. They are clear-cut. Don't kill, don't steal, don't bear 
false witness, don't stray into adultery. All of these commandments have 
something in common: There is a victim who is hurt by the transgression.

I was faced with a different kind of dilemma -- that of committing a sin of 
omission -- when the Oakland City Council appointed me an officer in 1998, 
thereby authorizing me to provide medical marijuana to patients and to 
induct other people into that service. I had skills in plant-growing 
techniques that few others had, and knew that my training could be used to 
alleviate pain and suffering.

Yet I hesitated out of fear of government retribution, even though as a 
city officer I was assured of my immunity from prosecution. Ultimately, I 
decided to pitch in and, I believe, made great efforts to alleviate pain 
and suffering.

The federal government obviously thought otherwise. A year ago, agents of 
the DEA, FBI and Internal Revenue Service raided my garden and arrested me. 
I was charged with marijuana cultivation, conspiracy and maintaining a 
place where the marijuana was grown. I now face up to 25 years in jail, 
although the judge has implied that he plans to grant me a minimal 
sentence. I was released on a $200,000 property bond on $500,000 bail. No 
matter the outcome of my sentencing, I don't regret helping the sick. My 
conscience is clear.

In pre-trial motions, the judge ruled that a literal reading of the federal 
law, which Oakland cited when conferring immunity, was in fact a 
misinterpretation. At trial, I was not allowed to disclose to the jury that 
I was an officer of Oakland, that the marijuana was distributed for medical 
purposes or that I had been led to believe that what I was doing was legal.

Even more tragic for our democracy, both prosecutor and judge ordered the 
jurors to choose law over justice, lies over truth. But most disturbing of 
all is that both the prosecutor and judge want to close dispensaries 
altogether, forcing patients who rely on medical marijuana back to the 
black market. They don't seem to care about the 30,000 patients' health or 
quality of life. They treat the ill as criminals. Ultimately, they will 
have to deal with their sins of commission.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager