Prohibition vs. Democracy: the County of San Diego and medical marijuana

November 29, 2005

Kenneth Michael White (Op/Ed), The Village News (CA)

The County of San Diego recently announced that it would not implement a California law that requires counties to create a medical marijuana identification program. First county supervisors said medical marijuana patients would have to sue them to get identification cards, but then the county changed its position after the local newspaper suggested the county should sue the state for declaratory judgment, which is what they decided to do.  As we wait for this litigation to start, now is a good time to consider the merits and demerits of the position of the County of San Diego regarding medical marijuana.

The county adopts the same position as the federal government, and federal law does not recognize medical marijuana. As far as federal law is concerned, a person using marijuana at a rock concert has the same status as a person using marijuana based on a doctor’s recommendation. Common sense defies this blanket categorization, but the typical responses are to point to legal medicines that provide similar relief as marijuana and also to argue that permitting the medical use of marijuana sends the wrong message to children. One county supervisor said medical marijuana was so dangerous that he equated the decision not to comply with California’s medical marijuana law as an act of civil disobedience akin to Rosa Parks refusing to obey Jim Crow segregation.

There is one drug approved in the United States that contains a component of marijuana, but it is expensive and not as effective as natural marijuana for some patients. There is also another drug, an oral spray, which is the entire marijuana plant in liquid form that has been approved for limited use in Canada and Spain. However, even if this drug becomes legal in the United States, there still remains the problem that for some people the natural plant is better medicine. The right to make personal medical choices does not end simply because a company created a new drug; a decent healthcare policy should thus recognize medical marijuana as an option for patients.

The County of San Diego is not primarily worried about healthcare policy, but rather doing the right thing for the youth. Arguing that California voters were misled in 1996 when they passed Proposition 215, county supervisors claim moral necessity compelled them to disobey an unjust law that hurts the youth. Exactly how a mandate that police officers not arrest people in certain circumstance hurts the youth is unclear, but perhaps prejudice has blinded logic here. It has happened before. When the federal government first prohibited marijuana in 1937, Congress appealed to racial animus directed primarily at Mexicans as the main reason. The county should consider this fact when citing Rosa Parks for their disobedience.

There is no rational basis why the bigotry of 1937 should prevent qualified patients from safe access to medical marijuana in 2005, and the charge that medical marijuana hurts the youth r reminds one of the trial against Socrates. A recent study has shown that marijuana use by the youth has actually declined in California since 1996. Socrates would probably laugh to learn that the County of San Diego has claimed the youth must be protected from the voters of California. The fact that Socrates was killed by a democracy does caution that voters can be wrong, tyranny of the majority can happen, but common sense should persuade the County of San Diego that when it comes to medical marijuana, prohibition is the source of tyranny, not democracy.

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