Pubdate: Mon, 28 Jan 2008
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2008 Star-Telegram Operating, Ltd.
Author: Jay Root, Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A few years ago, politicians who dared to suggest anything other than 
jail time for marijuana users were considered pro-drug fringe candidates.

Not anymore. Now all the major Democratic presidential candidates are 
offering more lenient stands on medical marijuana, and White House 
hopeful Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, has made ending the federal 
drug war a centerpiece of his campaign.

"There has definitely been a change in the political climate for 
liberalization," said Tim Lynch, a criminal justice expert at the 
Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "I think the people 
are ahead of the politicians, especially of the Washington, D.C., 
politicians, on this issue."

Polls have consistently shown that Americans support marijuana for 
medicinal purposes: a whopping 80 percent said so in a 2002 Time/CNN 
survey. In the same poll, about a third approved total legalization, 
but 72 percent said recreational users should be fined, not incarcerated.

Even in Texas, where medical marijuana legislation has never gotten 
off the ground, the Legislature recently passed a law that allows 
prosecutors to bypass the jail booking process for certain marijuana 
offenses. It doesn't change the penalty, but the legislation marks 
Texas' first lenient approach to marijuana in years.

Experts say the more tolerant approach has its origins in California, 
where in 1996 voters made it legal for people to smoke marijuana with 
a doctor's recommendation. More than a decade later, 12 states permit 
some use of medical marijuana, and several others, including 
Michigan, Arizona, New York and Illinois, are likely to consider 
initiatives in 2008, said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana 
Policy Project. A ballot initiative in Massachusetts aims to go 
further by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, 
making it similar to a traffic ticket.

"I think in 10 years, people will look back at the laws that 
prevented people from using marijuana as a medicine and say, 'What 
the hell were they thinking?'" Mirken said.

Of course, not everybody is leaping on the bandwagon. All of the top 
Republican presidential candidates have expressed opposition to the 
use of medical marijuana, and the White House drug czar continues to 
sound the alarm about making it legal under any circumstance, much as 
it was before California voters approved the landmark referendum.

Research has shown that teen drug use has declined steeply 
nationwide. A study released in December showed that illicit teen 
drug use has dropped sharply from levels a decade earlier, with 
marijuana use in particular showing steep declines.

In testimony before Congress last summer, Dr. David Murray, chief 
scientist in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 
hailed the positive trends among teens but said medical marijuana had 
sparked violence and robberies in California. He also warned about 
the negative health effects from inhaling smoked marijuana.

Murray described marijuana as "a substance without medical utility" 
and expressed concern about the wave of state referenda allowing its use.

"The medical marijuana movement is at best a mistake, at worst, a 
deception," Murray said. "The people pushing for this are cynically 
manipulating tragic tales of suffering."

Don't tell that to Tim Timmons. The Garland resident, who has 
multiple sclerosis, says politicians are the ones manipulating the 
marijuana issue to appear tough on crime.

Though he takes $3,000 worth of prescription drugs a month -- between 
18 and 23 pills a day -- he says marijuana is the only thing that 
calms the debilitating spasms in his legs and lets him sleep at night.

Timmons has sent scores of letters to state lawmakers, inviting them 
to see for themselves how marijuana visibly calms his spasms.

Otherwise, he has repeatedly issued this public challenge to state 
lawmakers who oppose medical marijuana: take him to jail themselves 
if they think what he's doing is wrong.

"Come arrest me. I'm here waiting for you," Timmons said in the 
presence of a Star-Telegram videographer, after smoking marijuana 
from a pipe at his home. "You can put the handcuffs on me."

State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, has twice failed to pass a 
bill designed to help seriously ill people who use marijuana for 
things such as pain and nausea relief.

Last year, the politics of the issue were so toxic in the Legislature 
that Naishtat didn't even get a public hearing on his bill.

The lawmaker stresses that his bill would "not legalize anything" 
Instead, it would give an affirmative defense in court for people who 
use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

That way, courts could release those who have a medical reason to smoke it.

"It gives these individuals, if they happen to get arrested, a chance 
to go before a jury and say, 'I'm not a criminal. I'm sick. My doctor 
recommended it. It helps me live. Please let me go home.' And juries 
could say, 'Go home.'" 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake