Pubdate: 17 November 1998
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Fax: 213-237-4712
Copyright: 1998 Los Angeles Times.
Author: ROBERT SCHEER, a Times Contributing Editor


Crusaders fight medicinal marijuana to help justify the cause's
bloated budget.

If there is one stunning bit of stupidity that instantly garners
bipartisan support, it's the failed war on drugs. Virtually all
politicians march in lock-step to do battle with unmitigated fervor
against each and every banned drug as if they were all created equal
in destructive potency and anti-social impulse.

Nowhere is the simplistic arrogance that underwrites national drug
policy more blatant than in the continual denigration of voters in the
states that dare dissent from official policy. In 1996, it was the
electorate of California and Arizona that begged to differ and, by
voting in favor of the limited legalized use of medical marijuana,
incurred the blistering wrath of the anti-drug crusaders.

To hear the uproar in official circles, you would have thought
marijuana, even in small quantities and prescribed by doctors for AIDS
and chemotherapy patients, was demon rum itself, and that the ghosts
of the temperance society ladies had risen from their graves to smash
open the doors of the cannabis clubs.

But the hysteria failed. Despite police harassment, the nonstop
fulminations of President Clinton's drug czar Barry McCaffrey and a
massive advertising campaign against medical marijuana, the electorate
has remained sane.

In this last election, voters in Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and Washington
joined California and Arizona in approving patient use of marijuana.
In Arizona and Oregon, voters moved beyond medical marijuana use,
opting for serious steps in the direction of decriminalizing
possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Exit polls show that voters in the nation's capital similarly voted
for legal use of medical marijuana, but in one of the more egregious
violations of the spirit of representative government, Congress
approved a ban to even count the D.C. vote on this measure. The fight
to prevent the vote count was led by ultra-right wing Rep. Bob Barr
(R-Ga.), who perfectly embodies the contradictions inherent in his
ideological obsessions. Barr has been the most vociferous opponent of
gun control legislation and even gutted an anti-terrorist bill to tag
explosives material on the grounds that it would be an unwarranted
extension of government power. But locking folks up for smoking weed
is his favorite cause.

He's not alone. Marijuana remains the scourge of the
$11-billion-a-year anti-drug bureaucracy not because of any
documentable antisocial impact but simply because that's where it gets
the big numbers of drug users to justify the bloated budgets.

According to the latest FBI statistics, 545,396 Americans were
arrested in 1996 for possessing marijuana, a substance that, if legal,
would prove no more dangerous to society than the vodka martini one
occasionally sips. That doesn't mean it's good to abuse any
mood-altering drug, but rather that a national policy which turns the
relatively benign use of marijuana into a highly profitable and
socially disruptive criminal activity is absurd.

But don't try to tell the politicians that, or they'll tear your head
off. Just look at the smear job McCaffrey has done on
financier/philanthropist George Soros and other businessmen for daring
to help finance recent state ballot initiatives that present voters
with a drug policy choice.

McCaffrey thundered recently that the folks putting up money for these
campaigns are "a carefully camouflaged, exorbitantly funded,
well-heeled elitist group whose ultimate goal is to legalize drug use
in the United States." Interesting that McCaffrey was silent on the

far larger amounts of tobacco industry money that poured into
California to challenge a ballot initiative to increase the tax on
tobacco products and divert it to education. It is invidious to
pretend that the drugs now classified as legal are less harmful than
those whose use is branded as a crime.

Drug abuse, both of legal and illegal drugs, is a medical problem
requiring treatment by health professionals, not cops. What makes the
war on drugs so nutty is that it's more about maintaining the coercive
power of anti-drug bureaucrats than treating those who suffer from
serious drug abuse.

The voters have been vilified as naive, but that appellation belongs
to a war-on-drugs crusade that has filled our jails while leaving
illegal drugs more plentiful and cheaper. It drives the anti-drug
bureaucracy mad that voters in six states have now voted to ever so
slightly challenge its total grip on the awesome power of government,
but it bodes well for our representative system of government.

- - - -  Robert Scheer Is a Times Contributing Editor

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Checked-by: Rich O'Grady