Jewish World Review May 28, 2003 / 26 Iyar 5763
Reefer sanity vs. puritans in the White House
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
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
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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