Source: Seattle PostIntelligencer 
Pubdate: 29 Oct 1997

I685 smarter approach to failing drug war and to easing patients pain 
by Bob Thompson, George H Revelle and Andrew Mullins

The PostIntelligencer's recent editorial on Initiative 685 (commonly but
somewhat superficially referred to as the "medical marijuana measure") was
remarkable. You seemed to support its intent and most major provisions, but
failed to endorse it on the grounds that it isn't perfect. What initiative

The initiative process may not be the ideal mechanism for developing public
policy. It is, however, a very effective mechanism for moving society
forward when elected officials lack the political courage to acknowledge
failures and to apply effective, if controversial, solutions. 

And so it is with the interminable, exorbitant and outrageously ineffective
war on drugs.  For decades our government has spent billions of tax dollars
each yeah to wage the war  much of it for commando squads and helicopter
attacks on pot patches from coast to coast  and to what end? Drug use is
rampant.  Prisons are overflowing. And the most persuasive, informative
advice we can give our kids is: Just say no"?

We say enough. It is time  indeed, it is long past time  for a smarter
approach.  The threat of imprisonment, however long, does not deter drug
addicts from feeding their addiction.  Treatment is less costly than prison
and far more effective in reducing drug abuse and crimes against others
committed by drug abusers. Still, some cling to the fallacy that all we
really need to do to save our kids from the scourge of drugs is threaten to
toss them in jail. Even more absurd is the notion that our policy must be
absolute  that exceptions cannot be made even for patients in mortal pain.

We have seen and dealt with the ravages of drug abuse.  We have witnessed,
firsthand, how it ruins lives lives and destroys families. It is because of
that understanding, not in spite of it, that we support I685.

These are the facts: I685 is not about legalizing drugs (in fact, it
leaves marijuana and all Schedule One drugs in a more restrictive category
than cocaine, amphetamines and morphine.) It does refocus current policy
toward medical treatment and education, rather than incarceration, for
nonviolent drug users. 

Contrary to opponents' claims, it does not require the release of any
criminal but, instead, gives judges the discretion on a case by case basis
to release nonviolent drug users for court supervised drug treatment.
People with violent criminal history or those already serving time for
other crimes are not even eligible for consideration. It requires those
convicted of a violent crime under the influence of illegal drugs to serve
their full sentence. It also creates and funds a parent commission on drug
abuse prevention programs for youth. 

I685 also permits doctors with a concurring opinion from a second
physician to treat and their seriously ill patients to use any drug with
established medical benefit, without threat of prosecution.  The doctors
must have compelling scientific evidence supporting the drug's medical
benefit. Currently, marijuana is the only drug on the federal government's
Schedule One list to meet that tough standard. In the future, medical
research may discover treatment benefits of other Schedule One drugs.  If
and when that happens, I685 will allow doctors  not politicians to
decide whether to offer them as treatment. 

Ineffective in arguing that we are "dangerous radicals" our opponents now
portray us as well intentioned but gullible rubes pawns to sinister forces
whose intent is to legalize all drugs. and, oh yes, it is a plot hatched
and directed by (pause for dramatic effect) outofstate contributors.
Thanks, but for conspiracy tales we prefer "The XFiles". 

The movement for a more intelligent approach to the drug problem crosses
all borders and all traditional political boundaries.  It is spreading
quickly. We are proud of the support we have earned from bold, visionary
philanthropists who have no office to run for only a desire to fix our
problems and get on with making our world a better place to live. 

In public policy, as in medicine, there are few if any perfect
prescriptions.  I685 is no exception.  But is an important step in the
right direction the perfect way to signal those mired in the politics of
failure that we demand change and results. It is also the best way we know
to give those political leaders with vision and compassion a strong vote of
confidence and support as they fight to prevail against great odds. 

In the final analysis, I685 really is about who decides whether decisions
about health and treatment will be made by individuals and their doctors or
by politicians and government bureaucrats.  If we, as a society, believe
the fear mongers who equate a doctors recommendation of marijuana with a
street corner drug deal, we are doomed to loose both the war against
illegal drugs and the battle against the public health crisis that
addiction truly represents. 

On Election Day, you will have a rare opportunity to offer a decisive
second opinion. We urge you to join us in voting yes on Initiative 685. 

(Dr Rob Thompson is a Seattle Internist. George H. Revelle is a retired
King County Superior Court Judge. The Rev Andrew Mullins is a Vice Dean of
St. Marks Cathedral)