Drug czar blows in, weeds out medical marijuana support

February 17, 2005

Neil Steinberg, Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times

Medicine was once ruled by tradition. Doctors resisted for years the radical notion that they should wash their hands before examining patients or operating. They found the suggestion insulting; it implied they were dirty.

We like to think we're more open to new ideas nowadays, and we are. But not as much as we like to think. A mass of scientific evidence and overwhelming professional approval, for instance, mean nothing when it comes to the issue of medical marijuana, not to the government, not compared to the long-held notion that pot is a drug and all drugs are bad.

The Bush administration is fanatical on this subject, a passion dramatically demonstrated Thursday in Springfield when onlookers were surprised to see drug czar John Walters blow into a hearing the Illinois House of Representatives Human Services Committee was having on a bill to set up a program for legal medical marijuana in this state. Ten other states already have such a program.

Walters, who is in Bush's Cabinet, came in with a large Secret Service presence, testified for an hour, and then left. Apparently his usual farrago of distortions and fabrications was convincing, because two Democrats flipped -- Michelle Chavez of Cicero and, to the shock of many in her liberal district, Naomi Jakobsson of Champaign -- and the bill was voted down.

I'm not sure why I care about this -- I was never one for pot, and nobody I know is dying of cancer, not anymore. I guess, for me, the repression of medical marijuana represents the hidebound, head-in-the-sand, politicized approach the Bush administration takes to all things scientific, whether quashing stem cell research, ignoring global warming or slavering to rip up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to draw out a few months worth of oil.

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