POT PARADOX; Medical Marijuana Draws Unusual Political Backing

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 20, 2003 | Go to article overview

POT PARADOX; Medical Marijuana Draws Unusual Political Backing


Byline: Steve Miller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

LAS VEGAS - Supported by a teetering prosthetic leg held together with brown mailing tape, John Stargel went to Nevada's Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation seeking job training. But the 53-year-old former construction worker was refused assistance after he noted to his case worker that he is a legal smoker of medicinal marijuana, which voters here approved in 2000.

"So one state agency approves my medicine, and another says that if I take my medicine, I can't get any help. Wow," said Mr. Stargel, whose doctor authorized his marijuana use to offset his chronic pain.

The dismissal of Mr. Stargel's case is one more pot paradox that a growing number of states are facing as voters and legislatures from California to Maryland continue to support doctor-prescribed use of the weed, which was outlawed by the federal government in 1937.

They do so despite the insistence from hundreds of elected officials on both sides of the political aisle that smoking marijuana is not medicine. To say otherwise, in some places, is political poison.

At the same time, a cadre of lawmakers both Republican and Democrat, state and federal, buck their respective party platforms to advance acceptance of marijuana's purported medical benefits.

"There are all these people who want to take the politics out of this fight, but politicians shouldn't be playing doctors," says Republican Don Murphy, a former state lawmaker from Maryland who first introduced the state's medicinal marijuana legislation three years ago.

The bill, which after years of dispute received the state legislature's support, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich in May. It never went before voters.

"Most elected officials at all levels are content to just toss this issue to the feds and let them handle it," says Mr. Murphy, who now heads the Baltimore County Republican Party.

Federal officials continue to enforce marijuana's ban, even in states that have legalized it, citing the 1937 law that maintains marijuana has no medical value and lists it as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin, LSD and various amphetamine variants. They specifically target for arrest patients with prescribed marijauna and medicinal pot distributors, as well as pot paraphernalia purveyors.

"The medical establishment is not in favor of marijuana as medicine," says Tom Riley, spokesman for White House drug policy director John Walters. "And it is not like there is this drug being kept from sick people. It is not medicine."

Dr. Andrea Barthwell, President Bush's appointee as deputy director for demand reduction in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, notes that voters are voting their emotions when asked to approve medicinal marijuana.

"They aren't being told the whole truth," says Dr. Barthwell, who was confirmed last year with bipartisan support. "These voters are being propagandized."

Besides, she notes, "we recognize that the voters and the states have the right to vote on policy, but federal law trumps them."

Last week, the Bush administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let federal authorities revoke federal prescription licenses from California doctors who tell patients marijuana will help them.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana say such efforts undermine voters' wishes and hinder any hope that the medical cognoscenti in the United States will agree that pot can be good for what ails you.

Proponents are convinced that marijuana, a psychoactive plant that stimulates certain pleasure centers of the brain, can ease the pain of people battling the wasting of AIDS, the nausea of chemotherapy, the tremors of multiple sclerosis and the eye pressure brought about by glaucoma.

Nine states allow medicinal marijuana, seven based on the wish of voters, two based on the move of state lawmakers. …

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