Medical marijuana debate

December 29, 2004

Terry Maxwell (OpEd), Benson News Sun

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing the legality of using marijuana when doctors order it to reduce pain and suffering on the part of their patients.

Eleven states have passed medical marijuana laws since 1996 - Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana.

The acrimonious debate centers on the issue of states rights and whether the federal government can go after sick people who use homegrown cannabis. California residents Angel Baich and Diane Monson filed a lawsuit to protect their right to use marijuana to relieve their debilitating pain.

On appeal, the two California medical marijuana users won in the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit court of Appeals, which ruled that federal prosecution of medical marijuana users is unconstitutional if the pot is not sold, transported across state lines or used for nonmedicinal purposes. The federal government appealed the court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorney Randy Barnett related to the justices that his clients are law-abiding citizens who need marijuana to survive on a daily basis. 'Marijuana may have some negative side effects, but seriously sick people are willing take the chance because the drug helps them more than traditional medicines,' he said.

A Bush administration attorney warned the justices that they would be encouraging people to use a potentially harmful drug if they were to side with the California couple.

This statement is obviously open to debate. I'm not for the legalization of marijuana, but the same warning by the federal government to the court should therefore apply to the use of alcohol.

Compared to alcohol abuse which breeds violence and aberrant behavior, alcohol-related dementia, lost work hours and liver disease, among other medical and social problems, medical marijuana use is minor in comparison

There is a difference of opinion between the justices. Justice David H. Souter said, 'About 10 percent of people in America use illegal drugs, and states with medical marijuana laws might not be able to stop recreational users from taking advantage.'

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared to question the Bush Administration's position when she said, 'The federal government has a stake in interstate commerce, but with the California medical marijuana patients, nobody's buying anything, nobody's selling anything.

Justice Sandra O'Connor apparently supported Ginsburg's statement when she said, 'Homegrown medical marijuana never makes it to the interstate market.'

Historically, conservatives like Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia have supported the right of states to establish their own policies. Medical marijuana supporters shouldn't be overly enthused by this statement. In my opinion, none of the conservative justices will vote to legalize homegrown pot for medical purposes.

Advocates of medical marijuana take the position that the mind-expanding drug must be prescribed by a doctor, which mitigates the argument that it would provide increased opportunities for casual use. In reality, marijuana users have no problem buying pot on the open market. Consequently, medical marijuana wouldn't have any significant impact on marijuana use and abuse as claimed by federal government representatives.

When a patient is given morphine or other physically addicting drugs to reduce pain, does that mean that it will open the door to increased morphine use on the streets of America, as anti-medical pot forces claim takes place with medical marijuana use? If this analogy is accurate, then morphine and other physically addictive drugs should also be made illegal in hospitals and doctors' offices.

Obviously, this isn't going to happen, but inquiring minds should take an objective look at the differences between medical marijuana and addictive drugs and reach their own conclusions.

Historically, the Republican party stood for fiscal responsibility, states rights and reduced federal power. What has happened to these worthwhile goals over the past decade? States rights have fallen under an unrelenting attack by the federal government to the chagrin of states rights advocates throughout the country.

Beginning in elementary school, we are taught that America is a democratic and free nation that was founded on the belief that the vote of the people prevails. How then, can the 'long arm' of the federal government reach out and overturn the will of millions of voters in 11 states that approved medical marijuana in some form?

The justices have brilliant legal minds and are capable of making the appropriate decision on this perplexing and polarizing issue, However, I am amazed at their lack of knowledge concerning drug use and abuse on the streets of America.

Although, the justices are not expected to make a decision on this controversial issue before summer, it is my hope that in their ultimate wisdom, they will base their decision on whether the voice of the people and states rights prevail over an ever growing and intrusive federal bureaucracy.

However, as a practical matter, I don't think the U.S. Supreme Court will decide that states have the right to approve medical marijuana as a tool to treat pain and suffering. Time will tell.

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