Medical marijuana: A nation gone to pot?

July 01, 2004

EDITORIAL, The Republican - Northampton, MA

For a nation that has been waging a decades-long war against drugs without success, it is difficult to admit that someone might benefit by smoking marijuana. 

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to decide whether seriously ill people who smoke pot under a doctor's care are subject to a federal ban on marijuana.

Attorney General John Ashcroft strongly opposes the California law that permits medical use of marijuana, saying it 'seriously undermines Congress' comprehensive scheme for the regulation of dangerous drugs.'

There are common drugs prescribed by doctors every day that are far more dangerous than marijuana.

As we've noted before, the United States has the best hospitals in the world, the most skilled doctors, the most advanced technology and the most modern medicines, but its laws governing marijuana are archaic.

Studies by the Institute of Medicine, the American Medical Association, New England Journal of Medicine and others conclude that marijuana use can relieve pain and nausea associated with illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS. And, the studies show, marijuana is less toxic than some of the common prescription drugs that doctors use to treat patients.

The Justice Department asks the court to make no distinction between a California doctor who prescribes marijuana for a cancer patient and a drug lord in the jungles of Colombia who grows coca for drug trafficking. Such thinking may explain why the U.S. government is losing the war on drugs.

A doctor practicing in a state that recognizes that medicinal value of pot risks a charge of malpractice if he or she doesn't recommend marijuana when all else has failed.

The Supreme Court will hear the case next winter, but ultimately it is the function of Congress to change the laws governing marijuana. Federal law categorizes pot as a 'schedule 1' or dangerous drug under the Controlled Substances Act. At the very least, Congress should amend the law to allow for the medical use of marijuana.

Some lawmakers might fear that voters will think they are soft on drugs if they approve such a change.

Such thinking, to borrow a phrase from the cult movie on the dangers of marijuana, is reefer madness.

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