Marijuana should be legal as safe, prescribed medicine

December 06, 2004

EDITORIAL, Rockford Register Star

Nothing involving drugs, legal or illegal, these days is simple.

If it were simple, critically or terminally ill people would have easy access to safe, affordable medicine and other remedies to ease their pain and improve their conditions.

If the thing that helps is marijuana, fine. There is scientific and anecdotal evidence to indicate that marijuana decreases nausea among people who take chemotherapy, as well as eases other medical conditions.

PATIENTS SHOULD be able to get marijuana with their doctors' approval without being treated like criminals and without fearing that they'll be busted by Drug Enforcement Administration officers.

The case before the U.S. Supreme Court is not as simple as it appears on its face. It is not about whether or not marijuana is medically useful; it is about the government's ability to regulate commerce and whether that authority includes seizing homegrown drugs.

While federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, 11 states have laws that allow it to be used medicinally. The current case centers on a lawsuit brought by two California women who say they need marijuana daily for chronic pain.

DEA officials confiscated homegrown plants from the yard of one of the plaintiffs. The woman has a brain tumor and other medical conditions. She had been growing her own marijuana and was using it under a doctor's care.

The issue is complicated further because the supply of medical marijuana dried up three years ago when the Supreme Court declined to protect distributors from federal anti-drug charges. As a result, the so-called 'pot docs' of California prescribe a drug that their patients cannot obtain in pharmacies or legally from any other source.

PATIENTS HAVE to find their own or grow their own. And that's what they've been doing in California and elsewhere.

The two women whose cases are at the center of this case say they have no intention of selling marijuana or violating federal laws of interstate commerce.

Justices, in their questioning of attorneys on both sides, indicated they may be concerned about phony medical claims and potential abuse, as well as erosion of the government's ability to regulate illegal drugs. Product safety is another concern. The Bush administration opposes medical marijuana use, saying it undermines the war on drugs.

If the justices rule against the critically ill patients, the laws in California and 10 other states would be called into question, not to mention the trauma it would cause to people who get relief from cannabis.

SURELY THERE IS some way to regulate marijuana so that a safe supply is available for people who need it for medicinal purposes. The government successfully regulates other narcotics that also are coveted on the street. Some of those drugs do make it to the street, but they also make it into the medicine cabinets of people who need them desperately.

Seriously ill and dying patients should not be deprived of drugs to ease their pain by the government's inability to adequately control illegal trafficking.

As they consider this case, the Supreme Court justices might think of their ailing colleague, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is temporarily out of commission as he undergoes chemotherapy for thyroid cancer. Patients just like him are getting relief in 11 states from pain and nausea that can accompany the disease and treatment.

Maybe they will conclude that compassion in this matter can coexist with law enforcement.

On the Web

The bill, HB 4868, may be read at

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