A higher tolerance

September 24, 2007

EDITORIAL, Badger-Herald

Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Frank Boyle, D-Superior, recently introduced legislation that would legalize medicinal marijuana in Wisconsin. We urge the state to lift its ban and pass the bill.

Messrs. Boyle and Pocan introduced similar legislation in 2001. It failed then and two more times in 2003 and 2005 despite the addition of a Republican sponsor — former Oshkosh Rep. Gregg Underheim.

The influence of the “war on drugs” has convinced our elected officials that pain treatment for AIDS, cancer and glaucoma victims comes secondary to the threat of drug dealers abusing the system. They live in an alternate reality where dealers aren’t easily accessible and those who seek marijuana’s medicinal benefits are not tempted to help fuel a vast underground economy. Seriously ill patients deserve a legal avenue to acquire their preferred painkiller.

However, legalization of prescription marijuana in Wisconsin is more complex than simply passing a bill. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the federal government has the authority to prosecute possessors of marijuana, regardless of state law. Indeed, the Drug Enforcement Administration has raided numerous medical marijuana clinics in the 12 states where it is currently legal. The agency also believes a significant portion of medicinal marijuana goes to patients who are not chronically ill. And in 2006, the U.S. House voted 259-163 to reject legislation that would have barred the DEA from making raids against state-approved marijuana clinics.

Despite this, states that believe the federal government is wrong should provide this option to citizens who decide relief from their pain is worth the risk of federal prosecution. Anyone who is prescribed marijuana should be made aware of this stark reality. In addition, pressure from a growing number of states that accept medical marijuana will put pressure on the misguided federal policy.

Those who support a ban on medicinal marijuana often cite fears that this movement is a sort of ruse by the pro-drug lobby, while others insist marijuana is simply too dangerous. A 1999 Institute of Medicine report linked marijuana use to respiratory disease. Still, the report recommended its legalization for medicinal purposes. Indeed, concern over long-term health effects for seriously ill patients seems misguided and overly paternalistic.

Rather than worrying about exploitation of this legislation by drug dealers, state representatives should focus on crafting a comprehensive policy that makes it nearly impossible for dealers to pose as caregivers for the chronically ill.

It should be up to the states, and ultimately a patient and his or her doctor, to decide whether marijuana is a viable medical treatment. The state Legislature should attempt to wrench the decision from the hands of Washington politicians whose fear of a slippery slope toward the legalization of all drugs clouds their compassion for the seriously ill. While contradicting federal law is usually misguided policy, this is a matter of conscience above all else. State and national legislators who oppose medicinal marijuana should ask themselves, “If this can help alleviate a dying man’s pain, who am I to tell him ‘no?’”



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