Pubdate: Mon, 08 Oct 2007
Source: Reason Online (US Web)
Copyright: 2007 The Reason Foundation
Author: Steve Chapman


What the Presidential Candidates Are Too Timid to Tell You

Through all his years in politics, despite the endless obligation to
shake hands, smile for the cameras and coax money out of contributors,
John McCain has somehow avoided becoming a complete phony-something
that John Edwards and Mitt Romney managed to achieve within a week of
entering politics. Annoy 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 the Arizona senator 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, 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 McCain 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, 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." A 1999
report by the federal Institute of Medicine concluded, "Scientific
data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs for
pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite

It's true that actual 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.' " Said the court,
"All medical evidence in the record suggests that, if Raich were to
stop using marijuana, the acute chronic pain and wasting disorders
would immediately resume."

But none of that mattered. In the end, the government and the courts
gave 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 Republican 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. It's not even clear their
hardline stance is smart politics in their own party.

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.

This is not a dispute between Republican voters and Democratic voters.
It's a dispute between Republican politicians and everyone else.

What 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