Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cruel and dishonest drug warriors

Sometimes the sheer hypocrisy and dishonesty of the drug warriors gets to me and I'd just like to ... calm, down, Bock.

The Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment failed again in the House on Wednesday, by a 262-165 vote, despite the Democrats being in charge. This is the fifth year the amendment to the Justice Dept. appropriations bill, which would bar the department from spending money to prosecute people who use, grow or distribute cannabis for medicinal purposes in states that have passed medical marijuana laws. It has gotten more votes each year, but this year was especially disappointing. Nancy Pelosi had voted for it in the past, but obviously she put no effort into supporting it.

What really got to me, however, was the smug comment from one Tom Riley, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "You can fool some of the people some of the time," he said. "And this medical marijuana has become one of those (issues) for the last few years. But I think that the hand is starting to get played out here. More and more people are realizing there is a con going on -- that a lot of the people who are behind it aren't really interested in sick people who need medicine, they're interested in marijuana legalization and they're playing on the suffering of genuiinely sick people to get it."

Assume he's right (which he isn't). Is it more reprehensible to play on people's sympathy for sick people to get a step you think might lead to legalization, or is it more reprehensible to deny genuinely sick people a medicine that, according to the government's own Institute of Medicine report in 1999, (it's downloadable) "might offer broad-spectrum relief not found in any other single medication" for those suffering with "AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy, and who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss"?

I don't deny that I'm for full legalization of cannabis. But what led me to write a book about medical marijuana was my acquaintance with a wide range of patients who found relief from it in ways they didn't get from any other medication.

There's a way for the government to call the bluff of this "con." That would be to permit the medicinal use of marijuana as a prescription drug, to be used 0only under a licensed physician's supervision. Codeine and morphine are used that way, and while there's some leakage into the black market it's not a serious problem. Doing this would eliminate a slice of people whom most Americans find very sympathetic -- people with serious illnesses -- from the drug reform movement, and allow the government to concentrate on the recreational users it finds so evil and harmful to society.

In fact, this would be perfectly in line with federal law as written. The Controlled Substances Act has five "schedules" or lists of drugs subject to different levels of control. The criteria for Schedule I, drugs that are not allowed to be used legally at all, are:

"(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
"(B) The drug or toher substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
"(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision."

As DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled back in 1988, marijuana does not meet any of these criteria. If you simply understand the law as written, it is illegal to keep marijuana on Schedule I. In fact, when the controlled substances act was passed in 1970, Congress put marijuana on Schedule I as a temporary measure, and was assured by administration spokesmen that the issue of where marijuana actually belonged would be considered and determined on the basis of scientific evidence.

That never happened. Not only has the determination been made strictly on the basis of political pandering, the government has consciously repressed scientific inquiry into therapeutic uses of marijuana. It's a policy worthy of the Dark Ages -- though in fact the authorities in the Dark Ages would almost certainly not have attemmpted something so foolish as trying to prohibit a plant! In fact, they didn't.

Not to toot too much, but all this and more is in my book, "Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana."


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