Pubdate: Sun, 16 May 2004
Source: Japan Times (Japan)
Copyright: 2004 The Japan Times
Author: Doug Bandow
Note: Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of
"Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World."


WASHINGTON -- The current and previous presidents of the United States used 
marijuana. So has presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry. California 
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted to drug use. Conservative radio 
talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, who once beat the drums for jailing white 
junkies, has been through drug treatment.

Some 75,000 Californians now use marijuana under a doctor's care. The U.S. 
Supreme Court let stand an appellate court ruling barring Uncle Sam from 
punishing doctors who prescribe medical marijuana under state law.

A federal district court in California has allowed defendants to introduce 
evidence that they were growing marijuana for medical purposes. San 
Francisco is considering creating nonprofit marijuana cooperatives.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, a Republican, signed legislation slashing 
punishment for medical use of marijuana. Connecticut is moving to legalize 
medical pot. Republican legislator Angelo Saviano has proposed that 
Illinois do the same. After surviving a bout with prostate cancer, New York 
State Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno says that he may support a 
similar measure.

A state court recently affirmed the constitutional right of Alaskans to 
grow marijuana at home. Alaskans will vote this year on an initiative to 
legalize personal pot use.

The Netherlands allows personal possession and cannabis coffee shops. Spain 
no longer arrests recreational users; Portugal and Luxembourg have 
decriminalized marijuana consumption. Belgium permits medical use of 
marijuana and is considering allowing citizens to grow small amounts of 
pot. Local authorities in France and Germany decide whether to arrest 
cannabis users.

In Britain most pot users are now warned rather than arrested. A police 
chief has called for legalizing heroin. The British Department of Health is 
nearing final approval of a marijuana inhaler for medical purposes. 
Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland all are debating relaxing their 
marijuana laws. Canada provides marijuana through its health-care program, 
plans to make pot available in pharmacies and has proposed decriminalizing 
pot consumption.

Venezuela is decriminalizing drug possession. Top Brazilian officials have 
recommended doing the same. A joint select committee in Jamaica has 
recommended decriminalization.

Why toss pot smokers in jail while tolerating use of alcohol and 
cigarettes? People should abstain from all of them, but they should not be 
imprisoned if they do not.

Some of Limbaugh's conservative defenders argued that an addiction arising 
from an illness deserved special dispensation. If so, people using 
marijuana as medicine also warrant compassionate treatment. For instance, 
Angel McClary Raich of Oakland, Calif., smokes marijuana to combat nausea 
resulting from her treatment for brain cancer. "The alternatives have been 
ineffective or result in intolerable side effects," says her physician, Dr. 
Frank Lucido.

Teddy Hiteman of Henderson, Nevada, suffers from multiple sclerosis. 
"Medicinal pot has been a godsend," she says.

Michael Ferrucci of Livermore, Calif., has lung and testicular cancer. 
Marijuana "has been far more beneficial to me than other medications they 
have recommended to me," he says.

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.

In one survey, more than 70 percent of American cancer specialists said 
they would prescribe marijuana if it was legal. A poll of the British 
Medical Association yielded similar results.

The New England Journal of Medicine has backed access to medical marijuana. 
Last year Lancet Neurology pointed out that marijuana had proved effective 
against pain in lab tests and could become "the aspirin of the 21st 
Century." A recent issue of Brain journal reported: "cannabis may also slow 
down the neuro-degenerative processes that ultimately lead to chronic 
disability in multiple sclerosis and probably other diseases."

Allowing the medical use of marijuana does not prevent the government from 
punishing recreational users. The General Accounting Office concluded "that 
medical marijuana laws have had little impact on their law enforcement 

Candidate George W. Bush said "I believe each state can choose" what to do 
about medical marijuana. But under President Bush, 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." Sadly, 
drug warriors are more interested in punishing drug users who threaten no 
one than in aiding the sick and dying.

The U.S. drug war has failed: America's drug laws pose a far greater threat 
to public health and safety than does drug abuse. Drug use should be 
treated as a medical and moral issue, not a criminal one.
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