Pubdate: Mon, 23 Mar 2009
Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)
Copyright: 2009 The Daily Iowan
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has indicated that he 
opposes President Obama's recent changes to how the federal Drug 
Enforcement Agency approaches medical marijuana. Grassley's tired, 
predictable response demonstrates the extent to which he is out of 
touch on this issue.

During the course of the grueling 2008 election cycle, Obama promised 
to end federal raids against medical marijuana dispensaries operating 
in states that legally allow them. Though this pledged policy change 
didn't occur immediately after the president's inauguration, 
administration officials have now made it clear that Obama intends to 
keep his word.

"Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on 
people and organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial 
amounts of marijuana, and doing so in a way that's inconsistent with 
federal and state law," Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters 
at the Justice Department according to the Associated Press. The 
federal government would continue to go after those who "use medical 
marijuana laws as a shield" for other crimes, he said.

But it wasn't the possibility of people abusing the system that upset 
Grassley. The Iowa senator made it clear that he is strongly opposed 
to medical marijuana in the abstract.

"This attorney general is not doing health-care reform any good," ABC 
News reported that Grassley said. "The first rule of medicine -- 'do 
no harm' -- is being violated by the attorney general with this 
decision." Grassley went on to assert that the Obama administration's 
new policy is counterproductive because marijuana is a gateway drug 
that leads people to try and then become addicted to harder drugs, 
such as methamphetamine. However, this common prohibitionist claim is 
highly dubious.

One can easily find studies purporting to show alternatively that 
marijuana use does or does not lead to the abuse of more harmful 
drugs. But groups such as the Office of National Drug Control Policy 
or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws only 
tend to tout research that supports the very positions they exist to 
advocate. Thus, as is often the case with such politically charged 
issues, it's difficult to separate fact from spin.

In such a situation it makes sense for the federal government to step 
back, allow the people of each state to choose their own policies, 
and wait to see what actually works best. To his credit, that's 
exactly what Obama seems to be doing.

Currently, 13 states allow for the legal use of marijuana for 
medicinal purposes. Michigan is the most recent state to pass such a 
law, which was enacted through a referendum that garnered the support 
of 63 percent of voters last November.

But unyielding prohibitionists such as Grassley need not look outside 
of Iowa to find serious political figures who support medical 
marijuana. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, has drafted a bill that 
would allow some patients in this state to use the plant.

"The bill is essentially an attempt to address the suffering that 
people are in," he told The Daily Iowan, giving cancer and multiple 
sclerosis as examples of painful diseases that marijuana could 
potentially ease. "People with severe medical conditions are not 
being helped by conventional medications. Studies have found that 
marijuana is an effective treatment."

Bolkcom's bill didn't advance to the point where the Iowa Senate 
could vote on it this year, but he said he would try again in the 
future. And time seems to be on his side. Though Sen. Merlin Bartz, 
R-Grafton, doesn't think the legislation Bolkcom drafted provides 
enough checks and balances, he told the DI that he was supportive of 
the general concept.

How the federal government's experiment in allowing states to 
decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes will work out remains to 
be seen. Many of those who approve of the new policy remain cautious 
regarding Obama's commitment to it.

"Thus far, it's been hard to tell if the administration's statements 
on medical marijuana are style or substance," libertarian drug-war 
critic Radley Balko wrote on his blog. "But if Sen. Charles Grassley 
is pissed off about it, that's a pretty sign that they're doing the 
right thing."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom