Jewish World Review May 28, 2003 / 26 Iyar 5763

Clarence Page

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Consumer Reports

Reefer sanity vs. puritans in the White House


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | TAKOMA PARK, MD. -- The Bard of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, once defined Puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy." He would have found quite a few of them in his home state in recent days, trying to keep demon weed away from the seriously ill.

Shrugging off their pressures, Maryland's Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich signed a bill Thursday that, although it does not quite legalize the medicinal use of marijuana, does the next best thing. It reduces the maximum penalty for possession from a year in state prison and a $1,000 fine to a $100 fine in cases of "medical necessity," such as to relieve suffering from cancer treatment and other illnesses.

That's one small step for the governor and one giant leap toward reefer sanity, a rational and compassionate national drug policy in which states can make their own decisions about drugs without ideology-driven interference from Washington.

Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada and Maine have legalized medical marijuana. All but Hawaii did it by referendum.

Watching his brother-in-law die of cancer two years ago helped shape Ehrlich's view, he has said. As a congressman, he co-sponsored a bill that would have freed states to make their own laws on the medicinal marijuana issue.

"I think most people can discern a clear difference between legalizing substances that wreck lives," he reportedly said during a Capitol Hill visit in April, "as opposed to a life situation where someone is doing something because of severe pain."

But, not everyone does. John P. Walters, the White House drug policy coordinator, strongly opposed the measure and denounced the notion of marijuana as "a proven, efficacious medicine" as making no more sense than "an argument for medicinal crack."

Funny he should say that. Marijuana is listed along with heroin and LSD as a "Schedule I" drug, the category for drugs with "no acceptable medical benefits" under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Cocaine is listed in Schedule II for drugs that have "a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

Categorizing marijuana as more dangerous than cocaine is one of many examples of how far our federal drug policy is removed from the real world.

Perhaps now Maryland can avoid bizarre cases like that of Kitty Tucker, a lawyer I wrote about four years ago in the Washington suburb of Takoma Park. When she and her husband had a dispute over their teen-aged daughter's dating, the youngster got even by telling police about the marijuana plants that Tucker was growing in their basement for relief from her severe migraines and chronic muscle pain disorder.

The charges eventually were dropped, but only after Tucker's husband lost his federal job and the family was put through a legal and emotional wringer.

If states were left to make their own marijuana laws, we also might avoid cases like that of Ed Rosenthal, who was convicted under federal law of growing and distributing cannabis, even though he was licensed by the city of Oakland to do so under California's medical marijuana statute.

The judge in his case prevented several attempts by Rosenthal's attorney to inform the jury that Rosenthal's actions were legal under state law. After his conviction, seven jurors took the extraordinary step of publicly repudiating their own verdict and apologizing to Rosenthal.

A House bill would allow defendants from states with legalized medical marijuana to use "medical necessity" as a defense against federal drug charges. It has pulled together co-sponsors as diverse as liberal Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and libertarian Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.)

I wish them luck. The die-hard prohibitionists on the other side recently introduced a bill to authorize the drug czar to use taxpayer money in political campaigns, as long as it is "to oppose an attempt to legalize the use" of any currently illegal drug.

Let's hope that bill dies a quick death. Those who want to keep medicine away from the sick are entitled to promote their opinion. I shouldn't have to subsidize them.

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Up

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