Pubdate: Mon, 08 Oct 2007
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2007 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Steve Chapman
Note: Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His 
column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Sun.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


Through all his years in politics, despite the endless obligation to 
shake hands, smile for the cameras and coax money out of 
contributors, Sen. John McCain has somehow avoided becoming a 
complete phony. Annoy Mr. McCain, and you won't have to wait long to find out.

Even a sickly, soft-spoken woman in a wheelchair gets no pass from 
him. The other day, at a meeting with voters in New Hampshire, Linda 
Macia mentioned her use of medical marijuana and politely asked his 
position on permitting it. Barely were the words out of her mouth 
before Mr. McCain spun on his heel, stalked away and heaped scorn on the idea.

"You may be one of the unique cases in America that only medical 
marijuana can relieve pain from," he said, in a skeptical tone. 
"Every medical expert I know of, including the AMA [American Medical 
Association], says there are much more effective and much more, uh, 
better treatments for pain." He also ridiculed the notion that police 
would arrest patients for using marijuana as medicine.

It's refreshing that the Arizona Republican is willing to state his 
position with such unvarnished candor. It would be even better if he 
knew what he was talking about.

Apparently he missed the news that federal agents recently raided the 
home of Leonard French, a paraplegic who had been authorized under 
New Mexico law to use cannabis for his condition. He now faces 
possible federal charges, not to mention that he was deprived of the 
medicine recommended by his doctor.

As for medical experts, Mr. McCain could easily find plenty who 
testify to the therapeutic value of pot. The American Academy of HIV 
Medicine says that "when appropriately prescribed and monitored, 
marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health 
and well-being of our patients." The New England Journal of Medicine 
has called the federal ban on medical marijuana "misguided, 
heavy-handed and inhumane."

It's true that arrests of patients are rare. But that's often little 
consolation. Consider the case of Angel Raich, a California cancer 
victim whose marijuana was confiscated in a federal drug raid. When 
she challenged the federal law, an appeals court ruled against her. 
But the court also had to acknowledge, "Raich's physician presented 
uncontroverted evidence that Raich 'cannot be without cannabis as 
medicine' because she would quickly suffer 'precipitous medical 
deterioration' and 'could very well die.'" But none of that mattered. 
In the end, the government and the courts gave Ms. Raich a choice: 
Obey federal law, or risk jail by using the only treatment that helped her.

Bush administration officials often insist there are no definitive 
studies proving the curative powers of marijuana. What they omit is 
that the federal government has done everything in its power to 
prevent such research.

That effort has not entirely succeeded, though. Recently, the journal 
Neurology published the results of one clinical trial of HIV 
patients. It showed that pot "effectively relieved chronic 
neuropathic pain from HIV-associated sensory neuropathy," with no 
adverse side effects.

The mystery is not why anyone believes cannabis can be safe and 
effective therapy. The mystery is why so many politicians, 
particularly GOP presidential candidates - Ron Paul, a physician, 
being the heroic exception - are unwilling to consider the 
possibility, or to leave the matter up to the states.

Wherever you look, public opinion supports medical marijuana. In 
Texas, a 2004 Scripps-Howard poll found that 75 percent of the people 
favor allowing it - including 67 percent of Republicans. Such red 
states as Alaska, Colorado, Montana and Nevada are among the 12 that 
have legalized medical marijuana.

What Mr. McCain ought to say is that he would rather ignore medical 
opinion, and inflict needless pain on people whose doctors say they 
could be helped by marijuana, than admit the federal ban is a 
mistake. Now that would be real candor.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake