Medical Marijuana And The Folly Of The Drug War 

Medical Marijuana And The Folly Of The Drug War 
Posted by FoM on May 21, 2001 at 22:32:01 PT
By Stuart Taylor Jr, National Journal
Source: National Journal 
The Supreme Court delivered a timely reminder of the social costs of our "war on drugs" with its May 14 decision rejecting a medical-necessity exception to the federal law criminalizing marijuana. Meanwhile, President Bush has moved toward abandoning his own best instincts and repeating his predecessors' mistakes by endlessly escalating a $20 billion-a-year "war" that -- as most Americans now understand -- we have lost. 
In the face of overwhelming evidence that tens of thousands of patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses can greatly alleviate their pain, and even extend their lives, by smoking marijuana, the Court held that Congress had allowed no room for a medical exception to the law making it a crime to distribute marijuana or even to possess it for personal use. This means that a doctor could be sent to prison for giving -- perhaps even for recommending -- marijuana to a terminal cancer patient whose pain and nausea cannot otherwise be relieved. The cancer patient could be sent to prison, too, although such prosecutions seem unlikely, in part because most jurors would simply refuse to convict. The Justices were correct. Congress specified in 1970 that marijuana had no "currently accepted medical use" -- at least, none that Congress was prepared to accept. In cases brought by the federal government, this congressional ban overrides the laws of California and the eight other states that have exempted medical marijuana from their own state anti-drug statutes. The Supreme Court neither agreed nor disagreed with Congress, but rather deferred to an enactment that it had no power to revise -- an enactment that inflicts needless suffering and ought to be revised by Congress. The most obvious proof that marijuana alleviates some patients' pain is that so many of them say so. When a patient racked by agonizing pain says, "I feel much better after smoking marijuana," who is Congress to say otherwise? For those who need expert assurances, plenty exist. "A small but significant number of seriously ill patients who suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, or other conditions do not benefit from, or cannot tolerate, the leading or conventional therapies," the American Public Health Association and others said in an amicus brief. "Some... have found cannabis to be effective at alleviating symptoms of their condition or side effects of their treatment.... It can mean the difference between life and death or relative health and severe harm." Marijuana is also safer, less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to have bad side effects than many legal pain relievers and prescription medications. The U.S. Institute of Medicine (a National Academy of Sciences affiliate), the California Medical Association, and Britain's House of Lords have all given guarded approval to carefully monitored marijuana smoking as a therapy for certain patients. Indeed, no serious analyst could doubt that marijuana alleviates some patients' sufferings. Serious drug warriors' real concern is that "state initiatives promoting 'medical marijuana' are little more than thinly veiled legalization efforts," as William J. Bennett, the first President Bush's drug czar, said in a May 15 Wall Street Journal op-ed. There is some truth to this. Many medical-marijuana champions do have such an agenda: Some exaggerate the medical benefits, and the 1996 ballot referendum in which California's voters became the first to approve marijuana for medical use was so loosely drafted as to leave room for recreational users to concoct bogus medical excuses. But most advocates of a less-punitive approach to drug policy are unpersuaded (at least so far) by the advocates of legalization -- a group that includes such prominent conservatives as Milton Friedman, George Shultz, and William F. Buckley Jr. And Congress could easily legalize medical marijuana only for patients with certain severe illnesses without vitiating the criminal sanctions for all other sellers and users. Why do hard-line drug warriors fight even that idea? Apparently out of fear that it would muddy the message they want to send to people like my teenagers. The message, in Bennett's words, is that "drug use is dangerous and immoral." Much as I respect Bennett, I take that personally. I smoked some marijuana myself in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it was hard to go to a party without being offered a puff of the stuff. (Unlike President Clinton, I inhaled.) Most of my peers seemed to smoke more than I did. They also seemed less dangerous when smoking than when drinking. Were we all immoral? Were our parents or grandparents immoral when they drank bootlegged liquor during Prohibition? Is having too many beers immoral? Was President Bush immoral when he did whatever it was that he did when he was "young and irresponsible"? When he drank too much? When he drove drunk? Like Bennett, I hope that my teenagers will shun illegal drugs. But I don't tell them that marijuana would be immoral or dangerous to their health, because I don't believe that. The danger, I tell them, is that using any illegal drug could leave them with criminal records or land them in jail. Bush and some of his advisers have said some vaguely encouraging things about drug policy. "Maybe long minimum sentences for the first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease," Bush mused on January 18. But on May 10, he named as his drug czar former Bennett deputy John P. Walters, who immediately stressed that he wants "to escalate the drug war." Like Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, he has pushed the cruel and futile policy of imprisoning small-time participants in drug deals -- many or most of them nonviolent -- by the hundreds of thousands. Walters has also displayed a special relish for sending the military into Latin America to help friendly regimes chase cocaine growers and suppliers -- notwithstanding such collateral damage as the April 20 deaths of an American missionary and her daughter in a small plane that a Peruvian fighter mistakenly shot down. Walters revealed his mind-set in 1996, when he assailed the Clinton Administration's emphasis on drug treatment for hard-core addicts as "the latest manifestation of the liberals' commitment to a 'therapeutic state' in which government serves as the agent of personal rehabilitation." In fact, treatment programs have proven more effective on a dollar-for-dollar basis than criminal sanctions -- although many addicts cannot get access to treatment unless they first get themselves arrested. In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bennett argued that the Reagan and (first) Bush Administrations had been winning the war on drugs until the Clinton Administration took over with a policy of "malign neglect." He stressed that between 1979 and 1992, "the rate of illegal drug use dropped by more than half, while marijuana use decreased by two-thirds." Then, Bennett noted, the rate began to climb again, especially among teens. But critics counter that such surveys of drug use are inherently volatile and unreliable. "In 1979, almost anybody would tell a surveyor that they smoked marijuana," says Ethan A. Nadelmann, head of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation; by 1992, drug use had become legally risky and socially stigmatized. And Bennett's depiction of President Clinton as soft on drugs does not withstand scrutiny. While Clinton Administration officials softened the "war" rhetoric by speaking of drug abuse as a "cancer" and slashed the budget of the drug czar's office, they protected their political backsides by increasing overall spending on drug enforcement and interdiction. They also outdid even Republicans in supporting savagely severe mandatory minimum prison sentences for (among others) minor, first-time, nonviolent drug offenders. More fundamental, the surveys cited by Bennett are a less-valid window into the costs and benefits of the drug war than some other facts: the nearly 500,000 drug offenders now behind bars -- many of them first-timers nailed for mere possession -- which is a tenfold increase since 1980; the death toll from HIV infections and drug overdoses that could have been prevented by public health measures such as needle-exchange programs, which Bennett and Walters condemn; the crack epidemic that ravaged inner cities from the mid-1980s into the early 1990s; the undiminished hard-core abuse of cocaine, heroin, and other hard drugs, which have fallen steadily in price since 1980, and to which some users have turned as the price of marijuana -- bulkier, smellier, harder to smuggle -- has gone up; the gang warfare; the police corruption; the racial profiling; the invasions of privacy. These and other harms inflicted on America by the drug war -- especially in black neighborhoods, where families have been decimated by drug-related incarceration -- dwarf the importance of the fluctuations in pot smoking among middle-class teenagers that so interest Bennett. Ninety-nine percent of them will never be serious drug abusers. Nixon went to China. Bush should go to a commonsense drug policy that might actually work. It's not too late. Note: The most obvious proof that marijuana alleviates some patients' pain is that so many of them say so. Stuart Taylor Jr. is a senior writer for National Journal magazine, where "Opening Argument" appears. Source: National Journal (US)Author: Stuart Taylor Jr, National JournalPublished: Monday, May 21, 2001 Copyright: 2001 National Journal Group Inc.Website: feedback nationaljournal.comOCBC Versus US Government Medical Marijuana Archives United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative
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Comment #7 posted by dddd on May 22, 2001 at 19:07:07 PT
Dan B and m segesta
I must heartily agree....I fear what is going to happen,is that atbest they will eventually reschedule Marijuana,but do minimalreform to present laws,while creating a massive "treatment"program that will merely take the place of the prison industry.Medical Marijuana has brought prohibition to the publics attention,but complete decriminalization should be our goal.We are in dangerof ending up in a treatment quagmire.If there is a treatment forMarijuana users,that implies that there is a "problem".......dddd
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Comment #6 posted by Dan B on May 22, 2001 at 12:13:20 PT:
m. segesta, I hear you
I have increasingly become convinced of your position that we need to go for the whole enchilada, rather than trying to sneak a morsel of medpot here and a nugget of "reduced penalities" there. Thomas Szasz and Les Grinspoon are, in my opinion, absolutely correct. We need to listen to these people.I understand that some countries' governments are able to look at the marijuana issue relatively rationally in the sense that once they are convinced that medical patients should be allowed to use it, they tend to ask "why not everyone else?" But the United States is different. Long ago, the American government believed in doing the will of the people, and things went relatively smoothly. Over time, though, they changed their game plan, and instead of trying to do the will of the people, they decided to convince people that the government knew what was best, and they should really simply play along. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans, lazy and stupid, were more than willing to give up their right to have their government work for them, and the result is what we have today: a facade of democracy loosely veiling the fist of tyranny.Today, our government officials treat us like we are stupid because they have done so for so long that they assume they can get away with it. When we express our greivances to our supposed "representatives," they refuse to listen, choosing instead to tell us that we really don't know what we are talking about, and we should leave the decision making up to the "professionals." In Canada, the people speak and, at least more so than in America, the government listens. It may take a while, but they are eventually heard, and positive changes are made.In the United States, the government is so obsessed with maintaining its stranglehold on its citizens' rights that they insist their way is the only way, no matter the volume of the outcry in opposition to them. Perhaps one day they'll "give us" the right to medical marijuana, but as m.segesta has pointed out, they will only use that as another way to say, "See, we gave you what you wanted, now stop complianing about all these prisoners."Yes, m.segesta, we need to go at this from a different angle. We need to show the American people the inhumanity of what their government is doing, not just to medpot users, but to all users, growers and sellers. We need to emphasize the horrors that await the nonviolent convict in prison, and we need to juxtapose those horrors against the argument that no government has the right to make decisions about what its citizens do with their own bodies. We need more people like Joel Miller who are willing to cut to the heart of the government's statistical arguments favoring prohibition, revealing the hollow at their center. We need to ask questions like, "Is it really worth ruining the lives of 1.6 million people each year by arresting them and subjecting them to criminal prosecution for a problem that kills about 12,000 each year?" and "Are you aware that in 1980, at the supposed peak of drug use in the United States, only 1700 people died from overdoses, and now the annual tally is about 12,000? Does this sound like drug war policies are helping to--as Senator Phil Gramm once wrote in a letter to me--'eliminate the death and destruction associated with the use of illegal drugs'?"We need to get active, writing letters, telling friends and family the truth even if it means risking relationships, running for public office and supporting others running for office who hold opinions similar to our own. And, we need to attack them where they are weakest: constitutional law. Now is the time to launch an all-out attack. Now is the time to stand in the face of tyranny and shout "No more! We will not accept your taking our country hostage! We will not allow your tyranny to continue!"Dan B
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Comment #5 posted by Doug on May 22, 2001 at 09:00:11 PT:
This man has some intelligent things to say, but one has to wonder about the level of intelligence of someone who "respects" William Bennett. That one statement destroys his whole credibility. I guess one should consider it progress that even one who considers Bennett something other than an object of derision believes the Drug War a Folly.
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Comment #4 posted by m segesta on May 22, 2001 at 07:39:49 PT:
What does "legalize" mean?
Does it mean just re-classifying MJ into Schedule II, with morphine? Is that the antis "plan B" to accomodate medical MJ users while keeping access to MJ highly restricted? Would such a scenario leave us worse off than we are now?The antis in the federal government must have a "plan B" - something they could turn to and implement when they finally see that they are on the losing track, something that will get these "sick pot people" off their backs as much as possible while at the same time retaining as much as of the prohibitionist policy as possible.In other words, while the antis are misguided and cruel, they are not such tactical morons that they would fail to have a "backup" plan that will allow the least amount of MJ use so they can publicly argue the med-pot folks "should be satisfied" but which also allows them to continue shouting about the "awful dangers" of MJ so as to justify (1) continuing oppression, arrest, etc., of all non-medical users (and likely some medical users whose use patterns don't fit known profiles, a la Steve Kubby), and (2) their fallacious but financially lucrative propaganda machine, testing industry, drug control agencies, et alia. I can only imagine they would like treat legal medical MJ as they currently treat any Schedule II drug (like morphine) -- that is, it has medical value in very rare situations, only with a doc's approval, and is so regulated that it is a pain in the arse (I know as I must take a long acting opiate for pancreatic pain and you would be astonished at the hoops I must jump through). Though drugs like morphine are available by prescription, they are by no means easy to obtain and use, and they certainly are not cheap. The antis continue to demonize these medications in the popular press (see to witness what they are doing to the pain medicine Oxycontin, whose manufacturer has already ceased shipping the strongest dose tablet because of pressure arising from media hype; see,, in DARE type education programs, and even among medical professionals, who are pressured to prescribe not one more milligram than is "absolutely necessary" and prosecuted when they prescribe more than the regulating antis believe is appropriate for any given case.So, given that in most places it is much easier to obtain MJ than potent opiates, even if you are a pain patient, it is possible the antis could allow medical use but ultimately treat even medical MJ in the way they now treat morphine? Imagine the cost of such legalized med-pot? (Hint, my pain medication costs about $1,000/month, luckily covered by insurance) Shouldn't we be ready for their "proposal" that aims to do just this? Is fear of a government "plan B" which is ultimately worse for us than things are now what drives heroes of mine like Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard to say we must only settle for complete legalization because mere decriminalization or even legalization of only med-pot (say , by placement of MJ into Schedule II) may well leave us worse off? (See Dr. Grinspoon's recent appearance on Pot-TV,, or Dr. Szasz's articles arguing that we should not settle for anything less than total freedom to put into our bodies what we want). Does anyone have a vision of the antis "plan B", doubt they have a "plan B" or agree with me? If MJ were legal only in the sense that Oxycontin is "legal" (i.e., as a Schedule II and with terrible press) I doubt it would help us all that much and we might even be worse off because the antis could claim they are providing MJ for those who "really need it" like they now do with Oxycontin. I think the Feds tried this type of "plan B" back when they were under a lot of pressure on MJ with the IND program in the 1980's and early 1990's, so it would not be a new trick for them. After all, when you LIE like they do, your options are always wide open!
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Comment #3 posted by dddd on May 22, 2001 at 05:38:56 PT
Thanx Kap
I am honored........The worst part,is sometimes I feel sorryfor those poor nails...even though they are victims of severecranial trauma,the feds would still bust them for tryin' to feel better,,,,,,as the jackbooted thugs lose their footing on the splattered gray matter,,,in an attempt to remove the smouldering roach from the nails bloodylips.......sorry bout that Nails,,,,but dont blame me....ddd....d
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on May 22, 2001 at 04:50:06 PT:
"So what? We rule"
4D, you did it again. The poor nails are screaming from their migraines. You better put that hammer down.I always try to get a balanced view of this issue, and I am usually able to do so by visiting a particular website:www.officer.comGo to the forums, and you will find reformists trying to have conversations with police.You'll note, I said 'trying'. Because all too often, the officers there play right into the Officer Jack Boot persona by replying - in essence - exactly what you said and the way you said it.They are either completely oblivious - or are deathly afraid someone will remember such nouns as "Nuremburg" - to the moral dilemma that ensues when a young person life is ruined. Not because of cannabis, but because of being caught with it.As one had put it: "In every society, there are people in power who make the laws, and people who are not in power who want the laws changed. We work for the first group. Until the laws change, we will enforce them."In other words, "I am unly vollowing orduss!"This is why I have said again and again that it is absolutely pointless to expect these vessels of power to suddenly act upon what most people perceive as a 'conscience'. Their paychecks are dependant upon that conscience remaining numb, as though it had an IV feed of spiritual novocaine. Never mind them. If rutabagas were illegal, they'd arrest, beat, imprison and possibly kill you for possessing rutabagas. The nature of the item is unimportant. The law behind its prohibition is. Which is why we must focus our efforts at State levels to directly challenge them. 
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Comment #1 posted by dddd on May 22, 2001 at 01:46:01 PT
I wish it was just "folly",,but I think that the word "folly",although it applies,is much too mild and innocent of a term touse regarding the new developments this year.....I think wemust include the words "evil",,"deceptive",,and "criminal",when refering to this "war".Of course these terms were alsoappropriate to describe years gone by,but I think there is a newsense of blatant ignorance,and evil in this new administration.They are not even doing a good job pretending to listen to thepeople.It's like they are saying,"so what,,we rule".This attitudeis not limited to drug policy either......The outlandish things theshrub has done apart from the drug war,almost makes our causeseem secondary in light of the absurd "tax cuts",and energy policies.Things are not looking that good........................dddd
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