Pubdate: Sat, 08 May 1999
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 1999, Bangor Daily News Inc.


The Legislature had a lot of good reasons to reject the
citizen-initiated bill legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. The
one given -- that voters  should decide this by referendum -- isn't
among them.

Referendum is a valuable, important tool in representative democracy,
especially when used for issues of conscience when the will of the
majority does not trample the rights of the minority. The extent to
which recreational

drugs should be legalized or controlled may someday be such an issue.
The issue  here, however, isn't what people should or should not be
able to do in their  spare time in the privacy of their homes. This is
about safe, effective  medicine and good science. That's a matter for
the laboratory, not the voting  booth.

There is evidence, including compelling first-person testimony, that
marijuana can relieve the nausea and pain that often accompany
treatments for  cancer, AIDS and other devastating diseases. It is a
shame that lawmakers, state and federal, have not been more committed
to funding the research that can validate those claims, determine
appropriate conditions for use and develop effective, smoke-free,
measured-dose delivery systems.

It is a greater shame, truly shameful, that pro-pot advocates use the
suffering of these disease victims to promote their cause. Their

argument that smoking marijuana is a harmless, repercussion-less
recreation has  been shredded -- chronic pot smokers exhibit a variety
of physical and mental-health problems, pot is the main gateway kids
take to other, stronger, drugs.  The tactics -- antics, really -- of
the pro-legalization side are likely the  primary reason lawmakers
have not been more willing to fully fund the research  and testing
that marijuana or any other potential medication must undergo to 
protect consumers from harm and false hopes. Bypassing the rigorous
review that  brings safe and effective drugs to market would create a
tremendous loophole in  a process that determines what is good medicine.

It is understandable that the Legislature showed no interest in
approving the bill that now goes to referendum. It is a bad bill; based upon
unsubstantiated claims of benefit; vague in its definitions, vaguer
still in its protections from misuse. The provision allowing patients
and their loosely defined "care givers" to grow marijuana in an
unregulated and uncontrolled way,  is a recipe for mischief; pot would
be as common as zucchini.

The Legislature could have proposed a competing, substantially more
sound measure that would have gained the support of patient advocates, but
now it is probably too late. Absent a bill-writing miracle, an
ill-conceived competing measure now would likely lead to a run-off
between a bad bill and a worse one. This is not a new issue. For
years, disease victims have been claiming significant symptom relief
from marijuana. For years, the Legislature avoided  taking any action,
lest they be labeled pro-pot. Now, an issue that should be  decided by
informed lawmakers with the advice and counsel of scientists, 
physicians and law enforcement will be decided by voters who must make
a  political decision about compassion.
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