Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2005
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich ( )
Bookmark: (Opinion)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


The Supreme Court's ruling this week on the use of marijuana for medical
purposes came in a California case, but it deserves a close look here in
Alabama. During the regular session of the Legislature, a measure to allow
the medical use of marijuana under tightly controlled circumstances was
debated, but the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee urged his
colleagues not to vote on the bill until the Supreme Court ruled in the
California case.

That ruling came Monday, and was a huge disappointment to many who see the
therapeutic effects of marijuana for some disease sufferers as justification
for allowing its use in certain cases. In a 6-3 decision, the court held
that those who use marijuana for medical purposes can be prosecuted for
violating federal drug laws.

The majority opinion notes that the court is not making a judgment about the
value of marijuana for medical purposes, but does find that the federal
regulation of homegrown marijuana as interstate commerce is permissible
under the Constitution.

Here in Alabama, the medical use of marijuana is a ticklish subject in a
state with notoriously harsh drug laws. However, as the Advertiser argued
during the debate over the bill by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, there is a
strong case to be made for taking the side of compassion and allowing
closely regulated use of marijuana for medical purposes rather than rigidly
making its use and possession a crime in all cases.

There is ample evidence that some medical conditions, particularly some that
involve chronic pain, respond better to marijuana than to conventional
pharmaceuticals. That provides a legitimate medical basis for a serious
debate of the bill.

At the same times, there is also plenty of legitimate concern that allowing
the medical use of marijuana would undercut the anti-drug messages aimed at
youth. The president of the state chapter of the American Academy of
Pediatrics warned that allowing the medical use of marijuana "gives
credibility to a drug that is mind-altering and would be abused."

But the medical community is divided on the issue. Some physicians contend
that the benefits to patients outweigh any such risks. Dr. Michael Saag,
professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and
director of the AIDS center there, says the blanket ban on marijuana use is
"anachronistic" and reflects an outdated view of marijuana as having no
possible useful purpose.

Unlike the California law, Hall's bill does not allow the use of homegrown
marijuana for medical purposes, but instead would require it to be dispensed
through prescription. It requires a diagnosis by a doctor "in the course of
a bona fide physician-patient relationship" that the patient has "a
debilitating medical condition and the potential benefits of the medical use
of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks for the qualifying
patient." The Department of Public Health would issue an identification card
for the qualifying patient.

To be sure, the concerns about possible abuse should not be discounted, but
there should be some way to allow the closely regulated medical use of
marijuana for alleviating the suffering of people for whom conventional
pharmaceuticals are not effective.
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