Put right issues on the front burner

February 13, 2006

Phil Strickland, The Californian

Let's get this straight. It's OK to annoy, at the least, nonsmokers with secondhand smoke on publicly owned property, but how dare you take a puff of pot in the privacy of your home to ease the pain of dying?

That's the message we seem to be getting from County Supervisor Jeff Stone.

Three weeks ago, the former Temecula mayor proposed that Riverside County join San Diego and San Bernardino counties in wasting public money and the time of judges and government attorneys with their attempt to overturn the passage of Proposition 215 ---- the Compassionate Use Act ---- which allows the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Then, just last week, in the wake of the California Air Resources Board classifying secondhand smoke as a toxic air pollutant, Stone came out against banning smoking in public parks and outdoor facilities. In his words, "We have large parks. And if somebody is smoking and you don't like it, you know what? You can go and sit on a different bench."

Too which one is tempted to add: You know what? If somebody is smoking pot for medicinal purposes in their home and you don't like it, don't go there.

In conversations over the years, rarely has it been expressed that the medical use of marijuana should be banned. Most people have exhibited a kind of ho-hum reaction to the topic, saying that the government surely must have more important things to pursue.

The point is medical marijuana should be a non-issue. The voters approved it and studies from prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Johns Hopkins debunk the myths surrounding its addictive powers and toxicity. Hundreds of thousands of people die each year as a direct result of using alcohol and tobacco, yet deaths directly caused by marijuana use generally are considered to be almost nonexistent. It even fails to rank very high as a contributor to fatal auto accidents and, then, it most often is accompanied by the presence of alcohol.

Interestingly, in a 1988 ruling that marijuana should be reclassified to allow medicinal use, Drug Enforcement Administration Judge Francis Young concluded that "In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods Ö For example, eating 10 raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death. Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care."

And addressing the broader issue of decriminalization in 1972, President Nixon's Shafer Commission recommended Congress and state legislatures decriminalize the use and casual distribution of marijuana for personal use.

If the past is prelude, Stone will be a vigorous and effective representative for Southwest County. But, with all that needs his attention, the time spent trying to overturn Proposition 215 could be put to much better use.

Temecula resident Phil Strickland is a regular columnist for The Californian. E-mail: philipestrickland@yahoo.com.

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