Medical Marijuana From the Patient’s Point of View

June 30, 2006

Kenneth Michael White,

The House of Representatives recently voted down an amendment to a spending bill that would have prevented the Justice Department from spending Federal tax dollars on medical marijuana investigations and enforcement actions in those States that have decriminalized marijuana for medical use. From the perspective of a person with a serious illness whose doctor has recommended the medical use of cannabis, the congressional vote was an unfortunate 259 to 163 against common sense.

Of course, common sense is not always common (especially in Washington, D.C.). In this sense, the congressional vote against medical marijuana is nothing new. For example, the 75th Congress started the trend of ignoring reality when it comes to medical marijuana by passing The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Over the objection of the American Medical Association, the 75th Congress allowed prejudice (directed primarily towards Spanish-speaking persons in the Southwest) to trump intelligence. America has paid dearly for this mistake, both in terms of wasted tax dollars spent punishing unpopular people and the inevitable loss of liberty associated with asking the government to protect people from themselves.

The 259 members of the 109th Congress who failed to vote in favor of correcting a mistake of 69-years and counting have given de-facto approval to the practice of punishing sick and dying people. Granted, the Drug Enforcement Administration has promised the United States Supreme Court that it does not target individual medical marijuana patients, but the agency nevertheless opposes the end of medical marijuana prohibition and therefore desires to, at least, threaten legitimate medical marijuana patients with criminal sanction. But, why? Why is it so hard to accept the private medical use of marijuana?

Are people upset with the medical use of marijuana because they believe it looks like lawlessness? Would such people change their view about medical marijuana if they knew that the American Medical Association once considered the plant to be medicine? If they knew that the Chinese have been using the plant as medicine for thousands of years? If they had a family member who needed marijuana to ease the symptoms associated with cancer, AIDS, and/or chronic pain?

Are people upset with the medical use of marijuana because they believe that some medical marijuana patients do not “look” sick? Well, should Congress order doctors to only prescribe medicine on the basis of who “looks” sick to the average person with no medical background or training? What, exactly, is a cancer patient supposed to look like anyway? How about an AIDS patient? An MS patient? Glaucoma? Arthritis? Is it even possible or desirable to judge by a glance which person deserves a disabled parking permit and which person does not?

Are people upset with the medical use of marijuana because they think that marijuana is addictive? Would such people change their view about medical marijuana if they knew that the supervised use of pain medication is not the equivalent of the unsupervised abuse of pain medication? If not, then should Congress prevent doctors from recommending the use of all medicines that could be addictive or could be abused? Why should people be deprived of useful medicine on the basis that certain individuals cannot be trusted with such medicine? Isn’t it simply cruel to threaten to punish people with incarceration for privately following their doctor’s advice?

Are people upset with the medical use of marijuana because they think that marijuana is dangerous? Would such people change their view about medical marijuana if they knew that no one in recorded human history has ever died from overdosing on marijuana? Alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana, so should we re-prohibit alcohol and bring back organized crime figures like Al Capone? If not, then why should we keep medical marijuana prohibition in place when it helps foster a black market that provides ready funding to international terrorists? Is it possible that the war on drugs is more dangerous than the medical use of marijuana? Isn’t it the current system of drug regulation that subjects our children to dangerous streets and dangerous temptations? Has Coors Brewing Company ever sponsored a drive-by shooting or otherwise used violence to profit from the sale of beer? Has a legitimate medical marijuana patient’s use of marijuana ever caused measurable harm to society?

According to the polls there is only 20% of the American population that does not favor medical marijuana. That means a whopping 80% of the country favors making marijuana available for doctors to prescribe to patients without government interference. Despite the fact that both federalism and conservatism seem to call for letting States enact medical marijuana laws and keeping government out of people’s private lives, a majority-of-the-majority in the Republican Party refuses to recognize any comity or restraint, and the Democratic Party is sometimes too afraid to stand up for what is often viewed as a “hippie” drug. The result is an out-of-touch Congress that criminalizes the sick and dying.

Oh well, maybe next year common sense will, finally, prevail in Congress again. In the meantime, people who need medical marijuana to survive are forced to go on living with the stigma of being a violator of an unjust law, which is still some kind of law after all, and which, for conscientious citizens, does not feel good to disobey. The good news is that medical marijuana patients are on the side of truth; however, the bad news is that they have to beg Congress to catch up with them for at least one more year.

Kenneth Michael White is an attorney and the author of “The Beginning of Today: The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937” and “Buck” (both by PublishAmerica 2004).

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