After the pot shot

June 07, 2005

EDITORIAL, Sacramento Bee

What a waste of time and a moral blunder for armed federal agents to raid the homes of seriously ill cancer patients to seize medical marijuana. Congress could - and should - change how it regulates marijuana, but it hasn't.

The pernicious effects of the so-called war on drugs launched in the 1970s can be seen in the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision on California's medical marijuana law.

OAS_AD('Button20');

com/24hour/opinions/775079026/Button20/Sacbee/beazer_240_nw_jun_5/beazer_240x400_promise.html/34303531666237653430386563656230?_RM_EMPTY_' width=0> The court Monday rightly upheld the principle that Congress has the constitutional power to regulate 'controlled substances' that may enter the national market. Clearly, the federal government has an interest in preventing drug trafficking.

But, as a practical matter affecting the lives of people with debilitating diseases, the 1970 Controlled Substances Act is so draconian in classifying marijuana that it has put states in a difficult position.

Studies, including one in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, conclude that marijuana has 'potential therapeutic value' for pain relief, control of nausea and appetite stimulation for patients with cancer, AIDS and other illnesses. Yet federal law continues to classify marijuana in the strictest Schedule I category - along with such drugs as heroin and LSD - as having 'high potential for abuse' and 'no currently accepted medical use.'

Schedule II through Schedule V drugs that have potential for abuse but have 'currently accepted medical use' may be prescribed and dispensed under strict control. Incredibly, cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug, along with methadone and morphine. Marijuana should be reclassified as a Schedule III drug.

The 6-3 Supreme Court majority acknowledges this case was especially difficult because 'despite a congressional finding to the contrary, marijuana does have valid therapeutic purposes.' As the court notes, Congress - or, as the law allows, the U.S. attorney general in consultation with the secretary of health and human services - could reclassify marijuana. But neither Congress nor the attorney general has acted. So no one should be surprised that states, including California, have taken matters into their own hands to establish laws assuring the safe, regulated distribution of medical marijuana to seriously ill patients.

The court concludes, however, that this is a national matter. The people may need to pressure Congress to act. Through the democratic process the 'voices of voters' allied with patients who rely on medical marijuana 'may one day be heard in the halls of Congress.'

That may be small comfort to Diane Monson, Angel Raich and others with terrible illnesses who use regulated medical marijuana under the direction of a doctor. We're glad to hear that, at least in the eastern district of California, U.S Attorney McGregor Scott has said he only has resources to go after large-scale traffickers.

Rather than expend resources harassing ill patients, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should reclassify marijuana and subject it to the same strict controls as other Schedule II to Schedule V drugs. Failing that, Congress should act. Marijuana does not belong in Schedule I.



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