Pubdate: Sat, 11 Apr 2009
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2009 The Times-Herald
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Editor's note: Mr. Armentano is the author of the upcoming
book, "Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?"
(Chelsea Green, 2009).


President Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of "change." A few
months into his presidency, it is clear that part of this "change"
pertains to the way Washington governs U.S. marijuana policy.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently reaffirmed that he will not
authorize federal justice resources to target or prosecute medical
cannabis users or providers that are compliant with state law.
Holder's statements clarify recent remarks he made when he said that
the Justice Department would uphold President Obama's campaign pledge
not to use the power of the federal government to circumvent state
medical marijuana laws.

The Attorney General's position stands in marked contrast to that of
prior administrations. During George W. Bush's eight years in office,
federal law enforcement charged numerous state-sanctioned medical
cannabis providers with federal law violations - many of whom are now
serving sentences of 5 to 10 years in prison. More commonly, U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agents performed so-called "smash grabs" on
state-authorized dispensaries, a tactic whereby federal agents would
seize cash and but never press criminal charges. This latter policy
was similar to the approach endorsed by the Clinton administration,
which ordered the U.S. Justice Department to seek to civil injunctions
against dozens of cannabis cooperatives in an effort to seize their
assets and permanently close their doors.

But not everyone is pleased with the administration's new "hands-off"
approach. Iowa senator and longtime marijuana law reform opponent
Charles Grassley immediately criticized Holder's announcement,
stating, "The first rule of medicine, first do no harm, is being
violated by the attorney general by his decision."

Grassley's ideological opposition, though predictable, is offensive to
those who support both science and the right of self-determination.

Contrary to the GOP senator's assertion, cannabis possesses an
impeccable safety record. Marijuana's active components, known as
cannabinoids, are virtually non-toxic to cells and major organs, and
are incapable of causing a lethal overdose. In 2008 investigators at
McGill University in Montreal reviewed more than 30 years of data on
marijuana and "did not find a higher incidence rate of serious adverse
events associated with medical cannabis use" compared to those who
never used the drug. Even aspirin can't make such a claim.

Further, Grassley's arrogant allegations are an affront to the 72
million Americans who reside in the 13 states where the use of medical
cannabis is legal. They are equally objectionable to the 80 percent of
voters nationwide who support the physician-supervised use of
therapeutic cannabis.

Funny, last time I checked Chuck Grassley represented the state of
Iowa and only the state of Iowa, which is not one of the states that
have legalized the possession and use of medical cannabis under state

Perhaps in the future Sen. Grassley will stick to commenting only on
policies that directly impact those voters for whom he is elected to
represent. When it comes to the laws governing lives and health of
everyone else, the good Senator ought to simply mind his own business.

Paul Armentano

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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin