Medical Marijuana

January 01, 2005

EDITORIAL, Winston-Salem Journal

The baby-boom generation, which brought marijuana use into public view in the 1960s, still thinks that smoking weed is OK - at least for medicinal purposes.

They're right.

A survey conducted for the AARP found that almost three-fourths of older Americans think that marijuana should be a legal medical therapy.

Advocates of legalized medical marijuana use say that it can relieve nausea and vomiting related to AIDS and cancer therapies, and that it is a useful therapy against anorexia, arthritis, chronic pain, epilepsy, glaucoma, migraines and multiple sclerosis. There is no scientific evidence to prove these claims, however.

That lack of scientific evidence stems directly from the federal government's unwillingness to allow scientists to study medicinal marijuana. There is anecdotal evidence that THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, achieves these medicinal goals. The Canadian health service has just begun a study to gather scientific evidence on the question. Medical marijuana use is legal, but controlled, in Canada.

The U.S. government's determination to stop medicinal marijuana use borders on the obsessive and illogical. The Bush administration is fighting 11 states that have approved, in many cases by referendum, the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Among those states are Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada and Montana, all Western states known for their dislike of government intervention in private lives and for their conservative politics.

The states will tell the U.S. Supreme Court that the feds have no authority to interfere with state-approved medicinal marijuana use. This is the correct constitutional stand. This is an issue of states' rights, not national drug control or interstate commerce. If a state approves medicinal marijuana, the federal government should stay out. If a state's program allows recreational use of the drug, or sends it into interstate commerce, a federal role is justified.

It is clear that politics, not medical logic, drives the federal crusade against medicinal marijuana. If made a prescription drug, it could be controlled just like any other. Nothing about marijuana makes it more dangerous as a prescription therapy than other drugs.

The Supreme Court won't rule on the effectiveness of marijuana as a drug. It will have to rely on the Constitution to settle this issue. If the court reads that document correctly, a great many Americans will have a new, and possibly very effective, pain remedy.

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