Pubdate: Thu, 12 Mar 2009
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2009 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Clarence Page
Bookmark: (Bush, George)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


White House Moves to Revisit the Medicinal Marijuana Issue

When Charles Lynch asked local officials for permission to sell a 
herbal medicine in the town of Morro Bay on the central coast of 
California, they allowed his request--even though the "medicine" was marijuana.

That's because marijuana prescribed by a doctor has been legal in 
California since 1996. A dozen other states have passed similar laws. 
Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire are among about 10 states 
that have been debating similar measures.

So Lynch applied for a business license, joined the local chamber of 
commerce, talked to lawyers and even called the federal Drug 
Enforcement Administration before opening his medical marijuana 
dispensary with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Unfortunately for Charlie 
Lynch, none of this prevented him from being arrested in March 2007 
when federal authorities raided his home and small business. That's 
because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Gonzales vs. Raich in 
2005 that on the issue of medical marijuana, federal law trumps the states.

"Today's decision," crowed President George W. Bush's drug czar John 
Walters back then, "marks the end of medical marijuana as a political issue."

Well, not quite. President Barack Obama's attorney general, Eric 
Holder, has announced that the Justice Department will stop raiding 
marijuana dispensaries in California and other states that allow 
medical marijuana.

But that doesn't help Lynch, whose sentencing is set for March 23. 
Putting the brakes on medical marijuana raids is only one small step 
toward a sensible drug policy after years of Bush backpedaling from it.

Obama likes to multitask. Faced with a long list of thorny issues, 
he's decided to take them on all at once while his honeymoon lasts. 
While he's at it, he needs to modernize federal policy on the 
medicinal use of marijuana. Stopping the raids in states where it's 
legal is good for starters. He also needs to lift what has amounted 
to a ban on scientific research of marijuana and push to change 
federal law that equates marijuana with heroin.

That's right. Marijuana has been classified as a "schedule I" 
narcotic, meaning it has no medical value, since 1971. Keep in mind 
that that's the same category as heroin. And as if that were not 
goofy enough, that would mean marijuana is more dangerous than crack 
cocaine, a "schedule II" drug that no one in the sane world describes 
as less dangerous than pot.

Yet that's the kind of thinking that gave a green light for the DEA, 
for whom there is far more useful work to do, to terrorize growers, 
providers, caregivers and patients with hundreds of commando-style 
raids. At least 90 major raids have been conducted by DEA agents in 
California, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which 
advocates legalization of medicinal marijuana

The Bush administration justified the federal crackdown against the 
medicinal use of marijuana as a way to stop people from abusing the 
drug--as if some people don't abuse legally prescribed drugs.

In fact, the same rationale was used to justify alcohol prohibition a 
century ago. That didn't work out so well, either.

Walters, like the drug czars before him, argued that the law must 
rely on scientific research, "not popular opinion." Yet, 10 years 
after a study commissioned by President Bill Clinton's administration 
found marijuana had medical value, the Bush experts said that's not enough.

Days before Obama's inauguration the DEA denied an application by 
professor Lyle Craker, who has been fighting in and out of court for 
eight years, to obtain a license to conduct DEA-approved research to 
measure the medicinal value of marijuana in a way that could lead to 
federal approval.

President Obama recently reversed much of what has been called the 
Bush administration's "war against science." He needs to turn around 
the war against medicinal marijuana too.