Marijuana Ruling Only Adds to Pain

June 11, 2005

Debra J. Saunders, Syndicated Columnist, Creators Syndicate

Someday, Washington will catch up with the 72 percent of Americans over 45 who believe adults should be able to use medical marijuana if a physician recommends it, according to a 2004 poll by the AARP.  First, voters are going to have to make some noise. Or as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in last week's Supreme Court ruling that upheld the federal government's authority to prosecute medical-marijuana users -- despite California's and 10 other states' medical marijuana laws -- 'the voices of voters allied with these respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress.'

Too bad the drug-war hawks have Washington spooked.  Lawmakers don't want to appear soft on drugs, so they are afraid to call an end to prosecuting people in pain. 

That's why marijuana is a 'Schedule I' drug in the federal lexicon, which puts the drug in the same legal classification as heroin.  Less dangerous drugs -- like cocaine and morphine -- fall under Schedule II and are available for medical use.  But not marijuana. 

That's because there is no recognized medical use for marijuana, according to the American Medical Association, the drug warriors respond. 

Fair enough.  But the California Medical Association supports medical marijuana.  Chief Executive Jack Lewin, a physician, explained that his group believes the government should listen to doctors who recommend the drug. 

What's more, in passing Proposition 215 in 1996, state voters have spoken, and from what Lewin has seen, 'it's not doing a whole lot of harm.'

Many California doctors recommend the drug because they've seen salutary results with marijuana not found with its legal pill-form equivalent, Marinol.  For some reason, Marinol doesn't take with many patients, who find relief by smoking, drinking or eating marijuana. 

Marijuana, they say, relieves their nausea, mitigates the ravages of some diseases and increases appetites depressed by chemotherapy. 

Doctors have risked their careers recommending an illegal drug.  They don't need a study when they can look at the faces of afflicted people who finally have found something that works for them.  And many users note that medical marijuana relieves their nausea without drugging them into oblivion. 

Sure, some medical-marijuana boosters may be looking for an excuse to smoke pot.  Two years ago, I went to a Santa Cruz, Calif., event where a young man told me he took medical marijuana for an injured knee. 

Yeah, right. 

At the same event I saw 93-year-old Dorothy Gibbs, who suffered from post-polio syndrome.  She found that marijuana eased her severe nausea.  As a member of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, Gibbs joined a different lawsuit against federal prosecutions, after the Drug Enforcement Administration raided WAMM and seized 167 marijuana plants. 

Gibbs is now dead, WAMM founder Valerie Corral told me on the phone yesterday.  In the six months after the raid, 13 WAMM members died -- almost 10 percent of WAMM's members.  This is a group of seriously ill people -- and the kid with the bad knee was not one of them. 

Corral, an epileptic, believes she suffers fewer seizures because of medical marijuana.  She used to take more powerful pharmaceutical drugs that 'made me feel as if I was underwater.  ' With marijuana, she said, she is more functional. 

Back to Congress.  Ten states have legalized medical marijuana ( including Oregon ).  Republicans who believe in states' rights should support these states, but in 2004, only 19 Republicans voted for a measure offered by Rep.  Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., that would have blocked federal enforcement for users of medical marijuana in states that have legalized its use. 

It failed 268 to 148. 

White House drug czar John Walters has been a strong opponent of medical marijuana.  As he sees it, pot heads are using sick people to push marijuana. 

I am sure he is right.  And I don't care. 

This year, I watched a friend die who lived longer, I believe, because she could drink a tea that revived her appetite, mitigated her need for other pain control and probably bought her a few extra weeks with her children. 

Marinol didn't help her.  Marijuana did. 

So I'll quote what Dr.  Marcus Conant once said to me.  Conant is the doctor who identified the first cases of Kaposi's sarcoma among San Francisco AIDS patients.  He also successfully sued to stop the federal government from acting against doctors who recommend medical marijuana. 

Conant explained: 'To deny sick people relief because of abuse is not humane.'

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