Political Dirty Work: Medical Marijuana
October 12, 2004
George Ochenski , Missoula Independent/Alternet
Given the Bush presidency's horrid record of lying about everything from preemptive war to domestic issues such as the environment, health care and education, it should come as no surprise that they're at it again. This time, it's to interfere in Montana's election on medical marijuana, I-148.
Case in point was last week's visit to Montana by Scott Burns, the so-called deputy drug czar for Bush's Office of National Drug Control Policy. First, in a blatant attempt to exclude the public – a common tactic of this benighted administration – no one except 'credentialed media' were allowed in the 15-minute 'press conferences' Burns gave in Missoula, Helena and Billings. Only one little problem – the Montana Newspaper Association does not issue 'press credentials,' preferring to let Montanans report wherever and whenever they so choose.
Because Burns conveniently held his 'press conferences' in drug treatment facilities, he was successful at shutting out supporters of the initiative who may have challenged him. Burns got right to the point with his first lie: 'I'm not here to tell anyone how to vote,' he said, looking straight into the TV cameras – and then proceeded to tell Montanans that voting for medical marijuana would be a terrible thing.
According to Burns, I-148, which would allow those with AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis or other terminal or serious illnesses to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes, is not about bringing relief to sick people, but 'about telling children that this is a medicine.' Burns says it 'is common sense' that having cannabis viewed as medicine will lead to increased use of marijuana among young people. But I can't ever recall busting into the medicine cabinet to gulp down some of Grandma's laxatives, can you? Or how about swigging some of that great-tasting Pepto-Bismol? Yet, from time to time those medicines surely helped the oldsters feel better.
Referring to the 'snake oil of 100 years ago' (but ignoring the recent recall of Vioxx) Burns said we now 'look to experts to tell us what is safe' and claimed: 'None of them say smoking this weed is medicine.'
Unfortunately, the drug czar must be too busy flying around the country on taxpayer money doing the federal government's political dirty work to take the time to read the conclusions of medical authorities from all over the world who have found just the opposite – that marijuana is indeed efficacious in treating a number of ailments.
Since he was in Montana, Burns should have done his homework and read the Missoula Chronic Clinical Cannabis Use Study, which was approved through the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The cannabis, which came from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was used under the supervision of a study physician, with the goal of determining the 'overall health status of 4 of 7 surviving patients in the program' who used 'a known dosage of a standardized, heat-sterilized, quality-controlled supply of low-grade marijuana for 11 to 27 years.'
And what did they find? Quoting from the study: 'Results demonstrate clinical effectiveness in these patients in treating glaucoma, chronic musculoskeletal pain, spasm and nausea, and spasticity of multiple sclerosis. All 4 patients are stable with respect to their chronic conditions, and are taking many fewer standard pharmaceuticals than previously.' The authors went on to say, in terms even a drug czar could understand: 'These results would support the provision of clinical cannabis to a greater number of patients in need. We believe that cannabis can be a safe and effective medicine...'
Rather than get bogged down in messy medical details that disprove his propaganda, Burns simply went on to assure reporters that in every state that had approved the use of medical marijuana, drug use among young people had increased. But an ongoing annual study in California found marijuana use by ninth-graders has dropped 45 percent since 1996, when the state legalized medical marijuana.
Leaving the statistics behind, what about the actual experience of Montanans? Take Teresa Michalski, one of the people who showed up to dispute Burns but who wasn't allowed into the Helena press conference. Michalski says using marijuana was the only thing that helped her son, who died of a rare blood cancer last year.
'My family learned the hard way, when our son was dying of Hodgkins disease, that 'traditional' pain pills don't work for everyone,' Michalski said. 'Toward the end of his life, my son was taking huge quantities of the same pills Rush Limbaugh was addicted to, but they did nothing for my son's pain and nothing for the nausea that made eating impossible. Marijuana, on the other hand, helped quell my son's agony and made it possible for him to eat. Because of marijuana, he was able to live his last days and die in relative comfort. But he and the rest of his family shouldn't have had to deal with the fear of criminal prosecution during that difficult time in our lives, which were tough enough as it was.'
Instead of interfering in Montana's elections, the drug czar should have used his federally funded plane ticket to visit Canada. If his preposterous claims were correct, the streets of our northern neighbor should be clogged with stoner youths, barely able to ambulate because of their access to potent B.C. bud. But as many Montanans know from firsthand experience, Canada's legalization of medical marijuana has produced no such drastic effects.
Fear and lies are the tools of the Bush administration, but Montanans are smart, compassionate people. Come Nov. 2, Montanans should tell the drug czar to take his lies back to the White House, vote for I-148 and bring legal relief to our most seriously ill citizens.
George Ochenski is a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.