Right marijuana ruling, wrong marijuana law

March 15, 2007

Jon Mendelson, Columnist, Tracy Press

I don’t know Angel Raich. Never met her. But I’ve heard a little bit about her.

Raich is a 41-year-old who lives in Oakland and is the mother of two children. She has scoliosis, a brain tumor, chronic nausea and no appetite. She’s dying. And she might also become a target of Federal Drug Agency officers.

That’s because Raich has committed the crime of smoking and eating the marijuana that is prescribed by her doctor to relieve her symptoms. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Raich, and other users of medicinal marijuana, are not immune from prosecution under federal drug laws. The ruling reinforced an earlier Supreme Court decision that a 1970 statute outlawing pot supersedes the laws in 11 states — including California — that allow medicinal marijuana use.

It’s hard to fault the courts’ decisions. Federal law clearly takes precedent over state law. And since the federal government made weed an illicit drug under the Controlled Substances Act, that makes California medicinal marijuana users susceptible to being busted by federal agents. So kudos to the justices of the 9th Circuit and the Supreme Court for correctly interpreting the law.

The problem is that the law is terrible.

Not only does it allow for the prosecution of medical patients using marijuana to relieve very real pain and suffering, it does so based on faulty information, adding insult to injury.

The law was written nearly 37 years ago, before the medical uses for marijuana became apparent. It lists marijuana as a drug with a high risk for potential abuse and no redeeming medical value. That would be news to folks at the Institute of Medicine, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that concluded in a 1999 report commissioned by Congress that marijuana has “potential therapeutic value … for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting and appetite stimulation.”

The Institute also concluded that drugs like marijuana “might offer broad spectrum relief not found in any other single medication.”

Many reputable health organizations, including the New England Journal of Medicine and Kaiser Permanente, have also agreed that pot can be a useful medicine. The federal government, though, insists on making sure people like Raich can’t get their hands on it. Or at least punishing them when they do.

And while the federal government continues to treat cancer patients and chronic sufferers like drug dealers, some local governments are hardly more accepting.

Tracy has been home to two short-lived dispensaries. Most recently, a medicinal pot shop set up residence in a nondescript 11th Street storefront. The Valley Wellness Center was so quiet that you’d never know it was there, unless you read the Tracy Press reports about it.

But the city had a problem with the shop. Arguing that selling marijuana is illegal in the city because it is not a specifically approved retail activity, it ordered the center to shut down its business. Of course, that’s pretty much just a convenient excuse. The real reason it was shut down — the reason why many cities have ordinances forbidding medicinal pot shops — is because these stores established to ease pain and suffering of legitimate medical clients supposedly attract crime and “undesirable” characters.

Said city spokesman Matt Robinson in the Press when Valley Wellness fought the order to shut down: “They just won’t go away, will they”

Unfortunately for patients like Raich, propaganda of shadowy drug dealers and teens under the spell of reefer madness are part and parcel of the campaign against medicinal marijuana. But legitimate clubs that sell pot for use as defined by Proposition 215 don’t contribute to the delinquency of a community or its inhabitants. There’s no empirical evidence that medicinal marijuana dispensaries increase illegal marijuana usage.

However, there’s plenty of scientific research that suggests it can be an effective tool in a doctor’s arsenal against disease and discomfort. Anecdotally, patients like Raich swear by it for improving their quality of life.

That’s why Tracy needs to nix a rumored plan to specifically outlaw dispensaries within the city. And it’s why our representatives should take action to decriminalize medical marijuana on the federal level.

The federal law needs to change. Otherwise, people like Raich will continue to draw the wrath of federal drug enforcers simply for trying to ease symptoms no one should have to live with.

To contact Jon Mendelson about his column, call 830-4231 or e-mail <!-- var prefix = '&#109;a' + 'i&#108;' + '&#116;o'; var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '='; var addy68035 = 'jm&#101;nd&#101;ls&#111;n' + '&#64;'; addy68035 = addy68035 + 'tr&#97;cypr&#101;ss' + '&#46;' + 'c&#111;m' + '&#46;' + ''; document.write( '<a ' + path + '\\'' + prefix + ':' + addy68035 + '\\'>' ); document.write( addy68035 ); document.write( '<\\/a>' ); //-->\\n jmendelson@tracypress.com.

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