Pubdate: 15 Oct 1997
Source: Orange County Register 
Section: Metro
Page: 7 
Contact:   DOUG BANDOW  Mr. Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Forbes is wrong on medical marijuana

WASHINGTON  A year after he seemed to be an irrelevant footnote to Sen.
Bob Dole's presidential candidacy, Steve Forbes is being touted as a
serious contender for 2000. But some of his old supporters worry that he
may want the presidency too badly.

There is, in fact, nothing as ugly as a politician trying to remake his
image. Viewed as a moderate in 1996, Forbes was shunned by Christian
conservatives. So instead of promoting the flat tax, the undeclared
candidate is now campaigning against, of all things, medicinal marijuana.

Patients and doctors alike attest to the therapeutic value of marijuana,
but good people can still disagree about the wisdom of allowing its use.
Not in Forbes' view,  however. Proponents of relaxing this small facet of
the drug war are, well, evil.

In taking out ads to criticize a prospective Washington, D.C., initiative
to allow the medical use of marijuana, Forbes contends that "radical
druglegalization forces...want to increase drug use." He has also written
an open letter to the president and congressional leaders urging them to
oppose the measure. In his words, "wellfinanced legalization forces" want
to "make America safe for Colombianstyle drug cartels."

Such demagoguery is particularly disappointing coming from someone who
smoked marijuana for health reasons, like Rick Brookhiser. An editor of the
conservative magazine National Review, Brookhiser used pot to cope with
chemotherapy during a bout with testicular cancer in 1992.

Washington state lawyer Ralph Seeley has fought cancer for a decade, losing
a lung, part of his spine, and several nerves in his back in the process.
He also turned to marijuana to relieve the nausea from succeeding rounds of

These cases are not unique. Explained Barbara Jencks, who, before her death
from AIDS, was arrested for using marijuana to combat AZTinduced nausea,
"I've got to smoke marijuana. I've got to, or I'll die." Many other sick
and dying people say essentially the same thing.

So do medical and scientific professionals. A recent National Institutes of
Health panel concluded that smoking marijuana may help treat a number of
conditions, including nausea and pain. The drug could also assist people
who fail to respond to traditional remedies.

More than 70 percent of U.S. cancer specialists in one survey said they
would prescribe marijuana if it was legal; nearly half said they had urged
their patients to break the law to acquire the drug. The British Medical
Association reports that nearly 70 percent of its members believe marijuana
should be available for therapeutic use. Even President George Bush's
Office of Drug Control Policy criticized the Department of Health and Human
Services for closing its special medical marijuana program.

One could still oppose the initiatives that passed in California and
Arizona (ironically, one of the states that Forbes carried in 1996). But
such measures are not intended to "increase drug use," as he suggests.
Supporters of medicinal marijuana simply proposed that the government
distinguish between the seriously ill and those seeking a high. Today,
morphine may be prescribed even though it is banned for recreational use.
Marijuana could be treated the same way.

Moreover, it is prohibition, which Forbes endorses, that has fostered
Colombianstyle drug cartels. They exist only because drugs are illegal.
That is, in fact, the principal lesson of Prohibition. Banning alcohol
turned the business over to organized crime  American versions of
Colombianstyle drug cartels.

The crime surrounding drugs is also largely due to drug laws, not drug use.
Killings and robberies inevitably accompany illegal markets. Dealers fight
over turf; sellers and customers rob one another. This sort of crime was
absent during the many years when marijuana, and opium, were legal.

If he wants to help eliminate drug abuse, Forbes should offer alternatives,
not rhetoric. Turning drug use, fundamentally a moral and spiritual
problem, into a crime hasn't ended drug abuse. More than 11 million
marijuana arrests over the past three decades have not stopped more than 60
million Americans from using the drug. Contrary to charges that the Clinton
administration is soft on drugs, the government has been busting more
people than ever.

Marijuana arrests are up 50 percent over the Bush years. In fact, there
were nearly 642,000 arrests in 1996 alone for marijuana, most for simple
possession.The result? Adolescent marijuana use rose by onethird in 1995
over 1992. Current policy is not working, and doing more of the same won't
work any better.

The debate over drug policy is critically important, and Forbes should join
in. But vilifying people who accurately diagnose the failures of the drug
war is unbecoming a serious presidential candidate. Treating the sick and
dying as the enemy is a particularly cheap way to win votes.