Pubdate: Tue, 05 Sep 2006
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Contact:  2006 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Doug Bandow and Michael Ostrolenk, The Examiner
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


SAN FRANCISCO - Much that the U.S. government does makes no sense. 
Jailing the sick and dying for using marijuana is one of the most senseless.

The United States faces manifold challenges which consume much 
manpower and money: the Iraq war, terrorism, illicit immigration, 
transnational crime. Uncle Sam should clear the decks, so to speak. 
It is time to conduct policy triage, dropping government tasks that 
offer little benefit.

But officials in Washington prefer to maintain their power.

A few House members recently proposed an amendment to the Justice 
Department appropriation bill, barring federal officials from using 
any funds to prevent states "from implementing state laws authorizing 
the use of medical marijuana in those states."

The measure didn't legalize drugs. All it did was say that Uncle Sam 
wouldn't interfere with states that allowed sick people to smoke 
marijuana. The bill failed, even though Congress is controlled by a 
political party claiming to believe in limited government, individual 
liberty and federalism.

A dozen states, including California, have lifted restrictions on 
patients suffering from such diseases as AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and 
multiple sclerosis and using marijuana for relief from nausea and pain.

Yet Uncle Sam continues to toss these people in jail.

Much ink has been spilled on the value of pot as medication, with the 
Food and Drug Administration recently weighing on the negative side. 
But The Economist magazine noted that "another reason the FDA 
statement is odd is that it seems to lack common sense. Cannabis has 
been used as a medicinal plant for millennia."

Large majorities of American and British oncologists have said they 
would recommend use of pot if it were legal.

Health Canada, the Canadian medical system, has approved the medical 
use of marijuana.

The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs 
reported that "anecdotal, survey, and clinical data" demonstrate 
marijuana's medical efficacy. Numerous health and patient 
organizations, such as the Lymphoma Foundation of America, back 
access to or at least research on medicinal marijuana.

But forget the debate over pot's value as medicine (or the broader 
assault on individual liberty). America is, or at least is supposed 
to be, a federal system. Thus, the efficacy debate should be left to states.

If they decide to allow limited medical use, Washington should 
respect that decision. (Increased medicinal consumption has had no 
impact on overall marijuana use.) In fact, candidate George W. Bush 
urged respect for federalism on this subject: "I believe each state 
can choose that decision as they so choose."

There's another important issue today, however: good stewardship of 
limited resources.

Assume that recreational drug users should go do jail. The government 
still has to choose which drugs and trafficking operations to target. 
Washington can't hope to interdict everything flooding in, and 
arresting cancer patients who smoke pot is a huge waste of time.

But the resource waste becomes particularly grotesque when compared 
to the federal government's other priorities.

Washington faces a particularly daunting task in attempting to secure 
the nation against terrorism, as the recent airport scare illustrates.

In a world of limited resources, notes Veronique de Rugy of the 
American Enterprise Institute: "Congress should direct homeland 
security funding to programs that provide the greatest return in the 
most crucial security missions.

Since the number of possible attacks is effectively unlimited and the 
resources we can devote to the fight against terror are limited, 
spending should not occur without a careful cost-benefit analysis."

Even more so, the government should stop devoting resources to other 
peripheral tasks, which reduce the personnel and cash available to 
respond to terrorism and other basic tasks. The resources devoted to 
cracking down on medical pot may be relatively small, but they 
exemplify a loss of perspective in Washington. The federal government 
can't (and shouldn't) do it all.

It's time for Uncle Sam to set priorities, and hunting down AIDS 
patients who smoke marijuana shouldn't be one of them.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake