Pubdate: Fri, 01 Jul 2005
Source: Texas Monthly (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Texas Monthly, Inc.
Author: Gary Cartwright
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich ( )
Cited: Drug Enforcement Administration ( )
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


Yes, I think we should legalize marijuana--and maybe all

But the big news is that some prominent conservative Republicans agree
with me.

What is it about marijuana that makes politicians hallucinate? The
faintest whiff of "the weed of madness" (as government propaganda used
to call it) causes them to see distorted images of things that aren't
there and never were: law and order, justice, reelection. But they
don't see the obvious.

The war on drugs was lost years ago, and pretending otherwise only
makes the problem worse.

Consider the two marijuana-related bills that were introduced in the
Texas Legislature during the 2005 session--each eminently practical,
neither with serious downsides, and both essentially dead on arrival.
The first, written by Democratic state representative Harold Dutton,
of Houston, would have reduced the penalty for possession of small
amounts of marijuana.

It was approved by the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence but
never reached the floor for debate or a vote. In Texas, 97 percent of
all marijuana arrests are for simple possession--an ounce or less--at
a cost to taxpayers of $480 million a year. (Full disclosure: In 1968
I was arrested for possession of about two ounces of pot, which at the
time could have meant life in prison; the charges were dropped after
my lawyer got the search warrant thrown out.) In America, we spend
nearly $8 billion trying to enforce the laws prohibiting the use and
possession of marijuana.

All we get for our money is a huge increase in organized crime, an
endless string of drug-related murders, and the highest incarceration
rate in the civilized world.

The second bill, which was written by several House members, including
Republican Terry Keel and Democrat Elliot Naishtat, both of Austin,
would have facilitated the use of medical marijuana, or "medi-pot." It
never got out of committee, even though there is ample evidence that
smoking pot eases pain and reduces nausea associated with cancer,
AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other illnesses; it may also have a role
in combating heart disease and strokes.

The medi-pot bill was simple and straightforward--so elementary, in
fact, that it was probably unworkable. It didn't legalize marijuana,
but it did allow doctors to discuss it as an option with their
patients and provided an affirmative defense for patients who are
busted for following doctor's orders.

But it didn't address, for example, how and where patients could
obtain this still-illegal substance.

A number of witnesses in wheelchairs appeared before the committee in
April, admitting that they regularly violated drug laws and explaining
that marijuana in its natural form was the only drug that relieved
their suffering.

Chris Cain, a 36-year-old quadriplegic who has smoked pot for twelve
years to control pain and spasms, described how his home near Beaumont
was raided by a team of Hardin County sheriff's deputies with the
assistance of two helicopters; they seized a small amount of marijuana
and the computer equipment he uses to run his Internet business, then
threw him in jail without regard to his need for medical attention.
"I'm just asking for a fair trial," Cain told committee members. "I'm
now a university graduate and a successful businessman. Marijuana has
not damaged my brain, but it has made me a criminal."

Polls show that 75 percent of Texans support medical marijuana, and
they're not the only ones. As of February, ten states had adopted laws
permitting the use of medi-pot (although in June, the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that medi-pot users can be federally prosecuted), and
thirty had recognized its therapeutic potential.

Still, the response to it here is mixed at best. One member of the
committee, Democratic state representative Juan Escobar, of
Kingsville, spent his career fighting drugs as a border patrolman and,
later, as the head of an anti-drug task force.

Nevertheless, Escobar is so convinced that medical marijuana makes
sense that he supported it. Keel, a former county sheriff, told his
fellow lawmakers: "We have, for some reason in our pharmacology,
isolated that particular herb as not of medical value when, in fact,
it is." Yet Democratic state representative Aaron Pe=F1a, of Edinburg,
whose vote the bill's sponsors had counted on, couldn't bring himself
to back it. He acknowledges that the drug war is lost. "All we're
doing is loading up our prisons and burdening our taxpayers," he told
me. "We need a paradigm shift toward treatment and education, and we
need it fast." Ever since his sixteen-year-old son died four years ago
of a drug overdose, however, he has dedicated himself to keeping kids
off the stuff. "If I voted for it," he said, "how could I keep telling
them that drugs are harmful?"

Though marijuana has been used medicinally for hundreds of years and
was prescribed by doctors in the U.S. until the thirties, the
government decided years ago that weed is a menace.

In 1933 the feds launched their famous "reefer madness" campaign under
Harry Anslinger, the zealous federal narcotics commissioner who
supplied bogus information to the media that marijuana was responsible
for insanity and violence.

A federal law enacted in 1937 put marijuana in the same category as
cocaine and opium.

In 1970 Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and
Control Act, grouping marijuana with heroin as a narcotic with no
medical use. In 1988 the Drug Enforcement Administration's chief law
judge declared that "marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the
safest therapeutically active substances known to man" and ruled that
it be made available to doctors, but the agency ignored him.

Over time, law enforcement officials have repeatedly misled the public
and the media about the so-called scourge of drugs.

General Barry McCaffrey, Bill Clinton's drug czar, should have known
better when he told the Washington Post in April 2000 that "illegal
drugs will cost the United States 500,000 deaths over the next
decade." A twenty-year study by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention shows that from 1979 through 1998, illegal drugs were the
cause of just over 44,000 deaths, compared with the 380,000 poor souls
whose deaths could be tied to alcohol.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush's drug czar, John Walters, has used his
office to lobby against medical marijuana programs in various states.
With increasing frequency, federal narcotics enforcers have conducted
raids on growing operations. Even accepting the fact that the war on
drugs has been waged for political rather than scientific ends, with
arrest and imprisonment preferable to treatment and education, how
could policy makers ignore something as benign as medi-pot? A cynic
might suggest that their motive is to appease the far right, which has
a pathological fear that some terminally ill wretch might smoke a
little boo and break out in giggles.

Finding ourselves in such a monstrous hole, you'd hope someone would
suggest we stop digging--and someone has. Several someones, in fact: a
few of the smartest people in America, many of them conservative
Republicans. Among those who have championed the legalization of
marijuana are William F. Buckley, Nobel prize--winning economist
Milton Friedman, former U.S. secretary of state George Shultz, and
former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. In his keynote address at the
Fifth International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, in 1991,
Friedman said that the country should admit that drug prohibition is a
policy disaster, just as we once conceded as much for the prohibition
of alcohol. The war on drugs and the harm it does, he has written, are
"manifestations of a much broader problem: the substitution of
political mechanisms for market mechanisms . . . " It has failed, he
contends, because it's a "socialist enterprise" that is inefficient,
expensive, and very advantageous to a small group of people--in this
case, the drug enforcement agencies for whom the war is a raison
d'etre and the drug lords whose cartels are a byproduct of U.S. policy.

Another conservative Republican who thinks prohibition is a dumb idea
is the "right-wing-nutcase" I wrote about a few months back, my pal
Dr. Robert McFarlane ("The Thrill of the Hunt," March 2005). The
Harvard-educated cardiologist has written dozens of letters and
e-mails to politicians and friends arguing that drugs should be
treated as a public health problem rather than a criminal matter.

In an essay published in the Palestine Herald- Press in March, Doc
wrote: "By legalizing drugs, the profitability in their sale would
evaporate, which would, in one stroke, eliminate everywhere the
incentive to grow poppies and thus end the narco-wars in Afghanistan
and Colombia=85[and] would drastically lower the crime rate here and
empty out our prisons." In recent months Doc has forwarded me news
items about drug-related murders and reports of conversations with
fellow wingnuts.

After his piece ran in the  Herald-Press, one conservative judge told
him, "Heresy is just the truth spoken prematurely." A top Republican
strategist confessed to Doc that his plan had merit but thought drug
laws ought to stay on the books "because people are weak."

That nanny instinct, so at odds with traditional Republican dogma, is
one of the arguments made by a conservative couple from Houston, Bob
and Ann Lee, who for years have waged a campaign to legalize
marijuana. "Current drug policies violate Republican philosophy of
personal responsibility," the Lees wrote in a widely distributed
pamphlet that rebuts many of the arguments advanced by drug warriors.

They come to the subject with a heavy heart: Their son Richard is in a
wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down since a work accident
damaged his spinal column in 1990. Legal drugs had serious side
effects, so Richard turned to pot, at which point his parents
discovered that most of what the government had told them about it
wasn't true.

Exposing government lies is the easy part--and making drugs illegal
doesn't keep them out of the hands of kids. Schoolchildren can't buy
hard liquor, but hard drugs are as available as candy on the black
market. Would legalization increase drug use? Maybe. But the use of
tobacco, probably the most lethal drug today, has dramatically
decreased because of intense anti-smoking campaigns.

Some people will use drugs no matter what the consequences, but as
Friedman and others point out, the user primarily harms himself.

When he harms others, we do something about it, just as we arrest
those who drink and drive.

We arrest them not for the act of drinking but for the act of driving

Ending the war on drugs will take time, but politicians need to show
some backbone.

They should do what's best for America and ignore the fringe types who
won't be happy until they're again allowed to burn witches. In the
words of philosopher Robert Nozick, they should legalize "capitalist
acts between consenting adults" and trust the free market they're
always raving about.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin