Pubdate: Sat, 9 May 2009
Source: Patriot-News, The (PA)
Copyright: 2009 The Patriot-News
Author: Ronald Fraser
Note: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., works for the DKT Liberty Project.


Pennsylvania has not yet legalized medical marijuana use. At long
last, policy makers in Washington have begun to draw a line between
illicit drug use and the legitimate use of drugs as medicine.

In March, Eric Holder, President Obama's attorney general announced
that the federal government will no longer prosecute medical marijuana
clinics that operate in compliance with state laws.

This means lawmakers in Harrisburg are now free to decide -- without
interference from Washington -- if marijuana will fill a medical niche
in Pennsylvania.

Thirteen states have already removed criminal penalties for the use of
medical marijuana and actively regulate how, with a medical doctor's
recommendation, marijuana is made available for patients with cancer,
AIDS, multiple sclerosis, severe pain, glaucoma, epilepsy and other
chronic conditions. But until now, Washington has disregarded these
state laws. Since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, for
example, federal agents have raided more than 100 marijuana
distribution centers there.

The first step has been taken with Washington's tacit acknowledgment
that closing down state-regulated marijuana clinics is a misuse of
taxpayers' money and harmful to Americans coping with serious illnesses.

Many thousands of ill people attest that smoking, vaporizing or orally
ingesting marijuana relieves pain, nausea and other symptoms far more
effectively than Marinol, a pharmaceutically available synthetic
version of marijuana.

While the federal government still officially maintains -- contrary to
solid medical evidence -- that marijuana has no medicinal value, at
least it has pledged not to raid medical marijuana facilities that are
sanctioned by state law.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based advocate
for legalizing medical marijuana, only 14 states, including
Pennsylvania, have never passed a law dealing with medical marijuana.
Pennsylvania need not reinvent the wheel and can easily avoid pitfalls
along the way.

A 2006 poll asked registered voters in Pennsylvania if they favored
"allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if a
doctor recommends it." Sixty-one percent said they did favor the measure.

Washington's new medical marijuana policy gives Pennsylvania the
freedom to exercise its historic role as the primary watchdog for the
health and welfare of its citizens. Whether Pennsylvania patients will
be given greater access to medical marijuana is now up to the state

Marijuana is not the only targeted medical drug.

In all 50 states, federal raids can still close down pain clinics and
errant pain management physicians who prescribe large doses of
opioids, highly effective, legal pain killers made from opium or
synthetics with the properties of opiate narcotics.

Dr. Joel Hochman, director of the National Foundation for the
Treatment of Pain in Houston, says the drug-war hysteria is making it
too risky for many doctors to accept patients in chronic pain and
that, with help from the media, federal raids on so called "pain
mills" paint a false picture that the streets are awash in drugs
carelessly handed out by unprincipled doctors.

Instead, he claims, these clinics provide last-resort care to largely
uninsured or underinsured blue-collar and other limited-income
workers, many with work-related injuries, who can only afford a
five-minute visit at high volume, low-cost, low-profit clinics.

To stay in business these clinics must see 60 to 100 patients each
day. With this level of traffic, doctors can make errors and patients
can lie about their aliments -- making the clinics easy targets for
federal agents. But since these clinics provide valuable medical
services, Hochman says law enforcement policies are misdirected. His
bottom line is: "Wake up America. The dope lords are making billions.
The little pain clinics in the strip shopping centers sure aren't."

Here is a rare opportunity for elected officials in Pennsylvania and
in Washington to take a long, hard look at how harsh drug laws are
undermining medical care. For millions of people desperately coping
with chronic aliments, let's not waste it. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake