Source: Gazette, The (CO)
Section: Peak Voices
Pubdate: Mon, 6 Apr 1998
Author: Matthew Hine, M.D.
Note: Peak Voices is open to readers who have expertise or personal
experience in an area of public policy. Articles should be limited to 600
words in length and can be sent to: Peak Voices, The Gazette, P.O. Box
1779, Colorado Springs, CO 80901.

About the Author:
Background: Hine earned his medical degree at the University of Texas at
Galveston in 1987. He earned a masters degree of public health in 1990. He
has been a resident of Colorado Springs since 1996.

Experience: He is a practicing physician specializing in preventative
medicine and is a member of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians.


I wonder if politicians are afraid of losing their jobs by appearing soft
on drugs (which would be risky), or if they're afflicted with a thought
disorder when it comes to drug policy.

While researchers at the World Health Organization reported that cannabis
(marijuana) is in many ways safer than tobacco or alcohol (New Scientist
Magazine, February 2, 1998), Vice President Al Gore addressed a young
audience in Boston about the dangers of tobacco. "Why don't you close all
the tobacco factories and farms?" one bright student asked. The vice
president replied that such an approach would be impossible, akin to the
government's failed prohibition on alcohol. "There are so many (tobacco)
addicted adults, that if you try to outlaw the industry you'd have a
horrible law enforcement problem," he said. (Massachusetts Standard-Times,
March 15, 1998.)

Really! Has Gore forgotten that he has admitted being one of more than 70
million Americans who have broken the law by smoking ... marijuana? More
than 10 million have been arrested on marijuana charges since 1972, the
vast majority for simple possession of a small quantity. In that same year,
the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse told Congress that
possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana should be decriminalized.

Congress did not follow the Commission's advice. There were 640,000
marijuana arrests in 1997 alone. As a result, our prisons are bursting at
the seams.

Due in large part to our war on marijuana users, the United States has the
distinction of incarcerating a larger percentage of our population than any
other nation on earth. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws cause longer jail
terms for non-violent offenders than for murderers. The housing and feeding
of each prisoner bleeds off more than $20,000 per year of taxpayer's money.

Politicians seem to believe that kids will be spared marijuana's harms by
exaggerating its risks and enforcing strict penalties. But when it comes to
tobacco, we are expected to trust the tobacco industry to keep kids away
from their more harmful product?

To show how ludicrous this is, imagine reversing the situation. Picture a
world where marijuana manufacturers are allowed the power to negotiate
regulation, even as they receive subsidies from the federal government, and
where pot is available at every gas station and grocery store. Imagine
citizens who risk forfeiting their liberty and property for possessing the
smallest amount of tobacco.

Tobacco addicts millions and causes hundred of thousands of premature
deaths each year. No one believes tobacco has medicinal value. Marijuana,
on the other hand, has been recommended by doctors for centuries.

Today, it helps patients suffering from AIDS, the side effects of
chemotherapy, and a variety of spastic muscle disorders. It is not
physically addicting, and unlike cigarettes or booze, not one case of human
death due to its use has been documented.

The myths that using marijuana causes a person to become an abuser of "hard
drugs," or that marijuana causes brain damage were disproven years ago.
(Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A review of the scientific literature,
by Lynn Zimmer, Ph.D. and John Morgan, M.D. published by The Lindesmith
Center, 1997.)

Marijuana has been used as a medicine in China, India, the Middle East and
South America. In the 19th century, it was respectable enough to be used by
Queen Victoria's doctor to alleviate her pain during childbirth. The
renowned physician Sir William Osler recommended it as a superior treatment
for migraine headaches.

It was commonly prescribed by medical doctors in the United States until
the early 20th century. Today, American physicians who routinely prescribe
far more dangerous drugs are not allowed to prescribe marijuana to people
who are dying, going blind or being crippled.

This conflict between medical needs and federal policy has created a
situation in which desperately ill patients turn to the streets and become

In 1988, after reviewing the evidence brought forth in a lawsuit against
the government's prohibition of medical marijuana, the Drug Enforcement
Administration's own judge wrote: "The evidence clearly shows that
marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great
numbers of very ill people. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and
capricious for the Drug Enforcement Administration to continue to stand
between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the

Since that time, many respected individuals and organizations have
recommended a regulatory rather than a prohibitionist approach to marijuana.

There is absolutely no argument about the need to keep children away from
alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, but the strategies are quite different. My
preferred recreational drug is one you wouldn't want your kids to get a
hold of. Used irresponsibly, it's addictive, causes liver and brain damage,
and is linked to increased violence. The social and health costs of its use
are horrendous. Fortunately, the chances of any government legalizing it
outright - remoring all regulations - are small. After all, alcohol has
been around so long that the only way to control it is through regulation,
not prohibition.