Pubdate: Mon, 08 Oct 2007
Source: Tracy Press (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Tracy Press
Author: Stephen Chapman
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


CHICAGO -- 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. French 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 stimulation."

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 use of medical marijuana exposed her to the 
threat of federal prosecution.

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 hard-line 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.

Stephen Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago 
Tribune besides being a Creators Syndicated columnist.
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