Congress Should Make Medicinal Marijuana Legal

June 07, 2005

EDITORIAL, Rockford Register Star

Do we have to wait for marijuana-smoking cancer patients to be rounded up, handcuffed and thrown in jail for Congress to take up the matter of medical marijuana use?

Federal agents could start arresting terminally or seriously ill patients in 11 states who previously had the right to smoke marijuana under their doctors' supervision to relieve their symptoms.

THE U.S. SUPREME Court ruled Monday that people who use marijuana to ease pain or symptoms of their illnesses can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws. That means that terminally and seriously ill patients who formerly smoked doctor-prescribed marijuana to relieve their symptoms could be arrested if they are caught using or, they would say, taking their medicine.

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These people could hardly be described as representative of the nation's drug problems, which are considerable, by the way. There are plenty of places to crack down on the drug trade, but cracking down via this population is, simply put, just plain cruel.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said the case before them presented 'troubling facts' about the potential harm patients would suffer without the drug. However, the issue before the court was not the appropriateness of medicinal marijuana, but Congress' power to enforce federal drug statutes from state to state. On that question, the court ruled 6-3 that it did.

We can buy that, except that the ruling made instant criminals of people who are dying of cancer and use marijuana to ease their pain and maintain their appetites. Other users suffer from painful brain tumors, AIDS, wasting syndrome, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and Tourette's syndrome.

MARIJUANA HAS never been promoted as a cure for chronic or terminal ailments but there seems to be evidence -- and many doctors believe -- that it can be therapeutic in relieving symptoms and stimulating appetite when that's needed to improve health.

The Supreme Court threw the issue back at Congress, saying that recognizing marijuana's medical value and carving out a safe zone for its medicinal use is 'squarely within Congress' commerce power.'

But will Congress have the nerve to act? Why, of course. This is, after all, a Congress that was so concerned about the welfare of one woman, Terri Schiavo, that it spent millions of dollars convening a special session and calling members back from all over the nation for a weekend vote.

OUR FEDERAL lawmakers were so intensely compassionate and concerned about her welfare that they were willing to draft and pass a special law that related specifically to one citizen.

And so, people who use marijuana under doctors' supervision to ease their pain and suffering surely have friends in Congress who will come to their aide. Yet, there are some who doubt that the cacophony of compassionate rhetoric in the Schiavo case will translate to this matter.

'I think support is strong, but people are still frightened a little bit by the politics of it,' Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, told The Associated Press.

'If you had a secret vote in Congress, I'll bet 80 percent would vote for it.'

Members of Congress should have the courage to do the right thing for people who are dying and people who are suffering. If they can get some relief from doctor-prescribed marijuana, let them have it. Soon.



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