Medical Use of Marijuana: Humane, Sensible

September 08, 2004

EDITORIAL, Press of Atlantic City

Legalizing the medical use of marijuana is not really a liberal issue or a conservative issue. It's an issue about injecting some compassion - and rationality - into the nation's emotionally and politically charged war on drugs. The fact that two state legislators, one from the left and one the right, have joined forces to support legalizing medical marijuana in New Jersey underscores that fact.

Both have been touched by personal experiences involving friends or relatives who died painfully from cancer. And both rightly believe that the government should not come between a doctor and a patient, nor make criminals out of terminally ill people seeking relief.

Marijuana has a legitimate medical use in easing pain and, particularly, in easing the nausea and loss of appetite that comes from cancer treatments.

Assemblymen Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, and Reed Gusciora, D-Princeton, plan to introduce a bill this fall that would set up a registry of patients whose doctors recommend marijuana to ease the symptoms of certain specific medical conditions - such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. Those people would not be prosecuted for using marijuana for that condition.

New Jersey would be wise to join the nine other states that have passed similar laws.

Of course, these state laws can only shield patients from state prosecution. The medical use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. But the vast majority of arrests come under state law.

Moreover, states are sending out the message to the federal government that the war on drugs can not be blind to the legitimate use of drugs in easing suffering. The federal law should be changed as well - and if enough states pass their own laws, perhaps federal lawmakers will gather the courage to take up the issue.

'There is no such thing as an evil plant,' Carroll said.

Of course there isn't. Consider the poppy - which can be used to make codeine and morphine, both used for medicinal purposes, but can also be used to make heroin.

Our war on drugs has, at times, blinded us to the fact that drugs can be used as well as abused. And that it is not only wrongheaded but cruel to deny people in pain the drugs that might help because we fear abuse. Those kinds of efforts become downright irrational in the cases of terminally ill patients.

We urge local legislators to support the Carroll/Gusciora bill. It's a sensible, compassionate measure. And it sets up a mechanism that ensures that marijuana willbe used only by those with specific medical conditions with a doctor's recommendation.

'Physicians should be allowed to prescribe drugs as they see fit,' Carroll said. 'The less time we spend telling people what to do, the better.'

Spoken like a true conservative.

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