Bush's war on patients

November 25, 2004

Rebecca Kaplan , San Francisco Bay Guardian

Oakland Resident Angel McClary Raich is fighting for her life – and for our democracy. Raich is a medical cannabis patient with documented life-threatening diseases, including an inoperable brain tumor, for which cannabis has proved to be the only effective treatment. This past spring she won a federal court ruling (in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) holding that the local, noncommercial use of medical cannabis, as authorized under California law, may not be punished by the federal government. Attorney General John Ashcroft then appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

Ashcroft v. Raich will be heard Nov. 29. (Even though Ashcroft plans to leave his position soon, he and his office are still working to make patients suffer.)

The Bush administration's claims in court filings demonstrate a chilling disregard for both human life and democracy. In arguing for the right to imprison patients like Raich, the administration makes a few arguments that have dangerous and far-reaching implications, including:

1. Even though Ashcroft's lawyers begin by claiming that cannabis has no medical uses (a claim that, in the face of mounting evidence, is flatly noncredible), the administration also says that even if cannabis is medically needed by a particular person, and even if that person will die without it, the federal government should still have the right to take away the patient's medicine and imprison the patient for using it.

2. The administration claims that a vote of the people is irrelevant. Californians voted for Proposition 215, legalizing medical cannabis, in 1996. The California legislature passed S.B. 420 in 2003, supporting the rights of medical cannabis patients. During the 2003 gubernatorial debates, the right of patients to use medical cannabis was the only question all five 'major' candidates agreed on. The administration claims the people of the states, through democratic elections and through an elected legislature, don't have the right to say what the law will be, even for purely local conduct.

3. The administration argues marijuana should be treated as if it were more dangerous than cocaine.

4. Ashcroft's team claims federal laws against medical marijuana can be justifiably used to pressure patients to use other drugs like OxyContin (which has worse side effects, is highly addictive, and is, in many cases, less effective than cannabis).

5. The government's court filings argue that the Constitution gives the federal government the right to regulate interstate commerce, which therefore gives the feds the authority to make laws regarding drug trafficking. In this case, however, Raich's medical cannabis was locally grown for her by her caregivers and was provided to her for free. Nothing crossed a state line, and there was no commercial activity. If the 'interstate commerce' power gives the federal government the right to regulate something that involves no interstate transportation and no commerce, then there's virtually no human behavior the Bush administration couldn't claim power over.

While the administration's position on this issue may be horrifying and inhumane, there are reasons for hope. A Time-CNN poll found that 80 percent of Americans support the right to use medical cannabis. On Nov. 2 the people of Montana voted overwhelmingly to legalize medical marijuana – by 62 percent – making medical marijuana more popular than George W. Bush, who received 59 percent of the vote in that state. This opens an opportunity to advocate for compassion while letting the public know the administration is wasting our tax dollars, persecuting people in a way Americans from all walks of life disagree with.

In the meantime, Raich is struggling to handle the toll of fighting for her life against the millions of dollars and thousands of lawyers and agents the administration is willing to devote to this crusade. She needs our help! Donations to her nonprofit, which provides legal support and education to help medical cannabis patients, are tax-deductible. Go to www.angeljustice.org for more information and updates.

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