Medical marijuana a 'con,' U.S. deputy drug czar says

October 20, 2006

Megan Myers, Argus Leader

The nation's deputy drug czar on Friday said proponents of the medical marijuana initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot are playing to voters' sympathies to pass a dangerous measure.

"It's a step backwards in South Dakota and a step backwards nationally," said Scott Burns, deputy director of White House National Drug Control Policy, who spoke to reporters Friday. "Do not fall for the con."

If voters approve Initiated Measure 4, South Dakota would join 11 other states that allow some medical patients to grow and smoke marijuana to help ease their medical problems. Residents of those states still can face federal drug charges.

Conditions that could qualify under the measure include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms and multiple sclerosis. The state's health department also could approve other qualifying medical conditions.

Proponents of the measure say making marijuana available to sick people would keep them from having to go to the black market for their medicine.

"We really need this for patients who are truly ill so they can have another means of release," said Valerie Hannah of Deerfield, who uses marijuana to ease the chronic pain of nerve damage.

Hannah - who served as a combat medic in the first Gulf War - said she is permanently disabled from exposure to nerve gas, and marijuana is the only drug that helps.

"I get a mild euphoria, but nothing like I had when I was on painkillers," Hannah said. "My nerves stop hurting; I don't feel the burning sensations that I get."

Law enforcement officials said Friday that they fear legalizing marijuana for use by medical patients could lead to more of the drug being used illegally in South Dakota.

"The risk far outweighs the benefits," said Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead, who opposes the measure. "There's great concern about how easily this marijuana could fall into the wrong hands."

Burns said the United States has seen a 19 percent decrease in teen marijuana use during the past three years, and legalizing marijuana for medical reasons won't help.

He said state measures such as South Dakota's are a step toward legalizing the drug for everyone, and that's not acceptable, he said.

"Clearly, [drug statistics] can't be helped by making more drugs available," Burns said.

Reach Megan Myers at 331-2257.

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