Token Justice

July 25, 2004

Steve Kubby, Alternet

By continuing to target medical pot patients, the federal government turns its back on millions of voters, the wishes of the dying and the authority of the courts. 

The term medical marijuana took on dramatic new meaning in February, 2000 when researchers in Madrid Spain announced they had destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the most psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Most Americans don't know anything about the Madrid discovery. Virtually no major U.S. newspapers carried the story, which ran only once on the AP and UPI news wires, on Feb. 29, 2000. Why has this vitally important information been suppressed while the media regularly trumpet any possible breakthrough in cancer research?

The Madrid study wasn't the first time that THC has been administered to tumor-bearing animals. In 1974 researchers at the Medical College of Virginia, who had been funded by the National Institute of Health in order to find evidence that marijuana damages the immune system, found instead that THC slowed the growth of three kinds of cancer in mice – lung and breast cancer, and a virus-induced leukemia. Since then, dozens of other peer-reviewed scientific studies have confirmed that THC and other canabinoids shrink tumors, cut off their blood supply and may even program cancer cells to die.

Because news of such advances in our understanding of medical marijuana has been suppressed, serious opposition still exists within the law enforcement community. They claim that the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 was some sort of hoax, or worse, not a law to be obeyed because federal marijuana laws trump state laws.

As a result, seven years after voters approved Prop. 215, sick, disabled and dying people are still being arrested, jailed, humiliated and bankrupted. An ideology of zero tolerance has deprived medical marijuana patients not only of justice but of life itself.

Contrary to assertions by police and US officials, federal law ought not to trump state medical marijuana laws, according to the 9th Circuit Court decision on December 16, 2003. In that decision, the Court found that 'the appellants have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on their claim that, as applied to them, the CSA [Controlled Substances Act of 1970] is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress' Commerce Clause authority.'

On May 14, 2004, District Court Judge Martin J. Jenkins acted upon this decision by the 9th Circuit Court and granted a preliminary injunction against the federal government, thereby protecting the medical marijuana rights of the two patients who are suing the government in this case.

Just one month later, in the case of County of Santa Cruz et al. v. Ashcroft, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel issued a temporary injunction barring the federal government from raiding the marijuana gardens of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, or WAMM.

The ruling allows the collective to resume cultivation free from the fear of further federal prosecution. This relief comes 18 months after a brutal Drug Enforcement Administration raid on WAMM in Santa Cruz, and a year after the collective's seriously ill members filed suit against the federal government to stop the law enforcement harassment.

Law enforcement and prosecutors also claim that patients dragged before the courts possess 'too much for personal use.' However, Proposition 215 set only one medical-marijuana possession limit, and that limit is 'for personal medical use.'

In 2002, the California Supreme Court affirmed this quantity limit in People v. Mower. There, the court clearly held that the only quantity limit or requirement in Proposition 215 is 'for personal medical use.'

But how much is too much? How much would be too much if your life depended on it?

Most narcotics officers claim that more than a few ounces of marijuana per month would be more than is necessary for personal use. In contrast, the US government allows their legally licensed patients to consume a pound per month. In Canada, patients such as myself are licensed to grow and consume up to two pounds per month. Law enforcement refuses to accept these levels of medical usage, but patients can and do consume these amounts of cannabis and still lead productive lives. Indeed, many need it to be able to live at all.

If respect for the law is to mean anything in our society, our elected officials must set aside their zero tolerance ideology and uphold California's medical marijuana law – exactly as it was written and passed by the people of California. Elected officials should begin tomorrow to implement the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 by taking the following four specific actions:

  1. Stop arresting sick people. Don't authorize budgets or federal grants that will be used against sick people. Adopt and implement the Mower Decision to protect sick people from arrest.

  2. Stop treating sick people like criminals. According to the Mower Decision, bona fide medical marijuana patients are entitled to a special hearing to establish that they have a recommendation or approval to use medical marijuana from a licensed physician. Unless police have clear evidence of actual sales, it is unlawful and immoral to arrest marijuana growers who make claims of medical use.

  3. Stop forcing sick people into the black market. Demand that the federal government take action on the petition filed by Jon Gettman with the Drug Enforcement Administration on July 27, 1995, and reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III. That action alone would solve many of the problems and concerns voiced by law enforcement and allow patients to go directly to their pharmacist to obtain their medicine.

  4. Start prosecuting those who violate the rights of sick people. Elected officials must provide legal protection for sick and dying patients from illegal arrests and prosecutions. To uphold the law, officials must see to it that police and prosecutors are held accountable for violating the medical marijuana rights of patients, caregivers and physicians.

Make no mistake; this issue is no more about marijuana than the Boston Tea Party was about tea. This is about sick and dying people who are living in fear that the very people they pay to protect them have turned against them, all because they use a medicine that the Federal government's own IOM study says, 'there is no clear alternative for people suffering from chronic conditions that might be relieved by smoking marijuana, such as pain or AIDS wasting.'

Seven years is long enough. It's time to stop hiding behind federal laws and the failed ideology. The voters have spoken and they have clearly voted to stop treating medical marijuana patients like criminals. Medical marijuana is the law; now is the time for law enforcement and our elected officials to show good faith and stop arresting sick people.

It is time for our elected officials and police to uphold their oath of office and uphold the will of the voters who wisely chose to protect sick people and exempt them from the War on Drugs. It wasn't difficult for the voters to understand medical marijuana, they voted by a whopping 56 percent to 44 percent to pass the law. Juries don't seem to have a problem understanding medical marijuana either. Only police and prosecutors seem to have difficulty comprehending that medical marijuana is real and it is the law.

Medical marijuana patients need real justice. They need police and prosecutors who will respect their rights, their dignity and protect them from real criminals.

Steve Kubby has written two books on drug policy reform and currently serves as the National Director of the American Medical Marijuana Association.

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