Smoke gets in your politics
December 05, 2005
Debra Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle
THIS WEEK'S issue of Time magazine basically lists marijuana as a medicine. Now, can Washington and President Bush finally wake up and change federal policy so that states can allow sick people to use medical marijuana if they need it?
This is what Time reports in an article on the year in medicine: "Research into the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis continued to bolster the case for the medicinal use of marijuana, making the 'patient pot laws' that have passed in 11 states seem less like a social movement than a legitimate medical trend." The article then cites studies that found that cannabis lessened the pain and suppressed rheumatoid arthritis and "can reduce inflammation in the brain and may protect it from the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease."
"If politicians would be a little bit more willing to listen to the voters, they'd find there is more support than they think," noted Tommy McDonald of the anti-drug war Drug Policy Alliance.
No lie. AARP polled Americans over age 45 in 2004 and found that 72 percent support allowing patients to use medical marijuana if a physician recommends it. That number can only grow as people see family members and friends benefit from the drug. A late friend of mine used marijuana to increase her appetite and ease her discomfort as she fought cancer. Yes, she tried Marinol, the legal pill-form equivalent to marijuana, but it didn't do the job.
When President Bush first ran for the White House, and he was asked about medical-marijuana laws, the Washington Post reported, Bush answered (as only Bush answers): "I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose."
In office, alas, Bush has taken a hard-line approach. His administration has challenged states that voted to legalize medical marijuana. White House drug czar John Walters contends that medical-marijuana is a cynical gambit used by people who want to legalize all drugs and are hiding behind sick people to advance a pro-drug agenda.
Some San Francisco politicians, if reluctantly, have come to a similar conclusion as they have had to deal with the crime that hangs like smoke around some pot clubs. City legislators have proposed limits -- an ounce per visit to a club instead of a pound -- to cut down on abuses.
I know that folks at the drug czar's office bristle at the notion that they lack compassion for sick people. But it's true. They may mean well, but if they really cared about people who are suffering, they would help them get what they need.
Bush could borrow a page from the Special City and tell the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to back off if states follow criteria designed to separate the sick from the stoned. But the Bushies can't do that because they won't recognize marijuana's medical use.
The Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to stop the agency from claiming that marijuana has no medical use. The goal, according to a news release, is to force the government to "publicly admit that marijuana is now effectively used for medical treatment, clearing the way for medical reclassification that would eventually allow doctors to prescribe it to their patients nationwide."
Meanwhile, Bush should act. He can start by telling federal agencies not to enforce drug laws against medical-marijuana users in states that have legalized its use and employ specific safeguards to prevent abuse.
Then he should call for the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's Schedule 1 table -- reserved for such serious drugs as heroin, with no medical use -- and put marijuana into a category that allows doctors to prescribe it.
Not prosecuting sick people would save the federal government money -- by cutting legal and penal expenses. It would leave medical decision-making to doctors. And it would uphold states' rights.
Another plus: It would show that Bush still can confound his critics. It would be like his 2003 Thanksgiving in Baghdad -- but Christmas for those who are sick or in pain.