Medical marijuana should get OK

November 30, 2004

EDITORIAL, Springfield News-Leader, Missouri

A Supreme Court that has been defending states' rights and supporting a law-and-order agenda finds itself in a quandary. A medical marijuana case the court heard Monday pits the two interests against each other.

The federal government long ago classified marijuana as an intoxicant with no medicinal value, making the law-and-order argument simple. Federal drug law doesn't mean much if states can decide which ones to abide by.

But in the last decade 11 states have passed laws allowing the use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

The laws are supported by limited research showing marijuana has some medical uses; in several states the laws were passed by public referendum. States, not the federal government, have traditionally regulated the practice of medicine. How can a court that has put renewed vigor into the 10th Amendment ignore that?

Rather easily, if comments made Monday are any clue. At least five justices expressed skepticism about sanctioning even limited use of illegal drugs. Nor did they accept the argument, made by California lawyers, that when someone grows marijuana for personal use, there is no interstate commerce — the standard that has justified federal regulation in other areas.

If the court ultimately strikes down state medical marijuana laws, it will be unfortunate but not irreparable.

It will be unfortunate because of the compelling testimony presented to the court. The two California women at the heart of this case, Diane Monson and Angel Raich, are both afflicted by chronic illness. Both had tried a series of traditional drugs to ease the symptoms, but to no affect. Only marijuana showed any effectiveness. In Raich's case, it freed her from a wheelchair, allowing her to sleep and play with her children.

But an adverse court decision should not be the end of this story. Congress and federal regulators ought to pay attention to Raich's and Monson's testimony. They should heed what is happening in the 11 states that allow medical use of marijuana. They should see who is being helped. And they should bring reason to the law, carving out a narrow exception for those states that wish to allow medicinal marijuana.

Far more dangerous drugs — morphine, for instance — are used for their beneficial purposes under a doctor's close supervision. This has not lead to the widespread abuse of morphine by people with no medical need for it. It has, however, eased pain and suffering.

We ought to be able to do the same thing with marijuana. Allowing people to use it for pain relief under the close supervision of a doctor will not lead to widespread abuse any more than it has for other controlled drugs.

Nor should it lead to the legalization of marijuana, anymore than it has lead to the legalization of morphine. Both should continue to be illegal to recreational users. But in the name of compassion, medical marijuana should be allowed.

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