Marijuana has a place in medical care

November 29, 2004

EDITORIAL, Kennebec Journal, Maine

Seriously ill people should be allowed to smoke marijuana if it is recommended by their doctors.

We hope the U.S. Supreme Court agrees and decides that patients in Maine and 10 other states with medical marijuana laws can get around the federal ban on pot.

These patients are not using marijuana for fun or providing it to others. They are using it for relief from severe pain, nausea or other extreme discomfort.

Justices heard arguments Monday in the case of Angel Raich, a 39-year-old California mother of two.

Raich tried dozens of prescription medicines to ease the pain of a brain tumor, scoliosis, chronic nausea and other illnesses before she, with the support of her doctor and her state's medical marijuana law, turned to marijuana.

Raich and another ill woman, who filed a lawsuit after her California home was raided by federal agents, argue that people with the AIDS virus, cancer and other diseases should be able to grow and use marijuana.

The high court must decide whether the California law and a doctor's endorsement are enough to protect sufferers from the federal government, which makes no exceptions for the seriously ill in its war on drugs.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled against the government. The court, in a divided opinion, found that federal prosecution of medical marijuana users is unconstitutional if the drug is not sold, transported across state lines or used for nonmedicinal purposes.

Unfortunately, justices Monday afternoon were sounding hesitant to endorse medical marijuana, even in cases like these.

Several justices referred repeatedly to America's problems with drug addiction. Justice Stephen G. Breyer said supporters of marijuana for the ill should make their case to federal drug regulators before coming to the Supreme Court.

Paul Clement, a lawyer with the Bush administration, told justices that the law causes and even encourages patients to subject themselves to health risks.

He said Congress has found no acceptable medical use of marijuana and needs to end drug trafficking -- even in medical-use cases.

Some Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, want the high court to consider that more than 20,000 people die each year because of drug abuse. A ruling against the government, they said, would help drug traffickers avoid arrest, increase the marijuana supply and send a message that illegal drugs are good.

That is preposterous. It is also insultingly insensitive to patients whose quality of life is improved dramatically because of marijuana.

Those who seek to use medical marijuana are not junkies. They in most cases are law-abiding people whose illnesses are so severe that their doctors are offering them medical marijuana.

In some cases, the patients need the drug to survive. And even if it can have certain side effects, seriously sick people are willing to take the chance.

Who could blame them? And who in good conscience could punish them for seeking relief from dreadful pain?

The Supreme Court should consider these questions.

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