As it’s April 20
, I have been reminded of a piece I wrote 11 years ago
for Richmond.com. In the decade that has passed since, thousands of
Americans have suffered unnecessarily because of antiquated
May 14, 2001, a 31-year-old federal law – the Controlled Substances Act
– trumped California's state laws allowing for the supply of medical
marijuana. The U.S. Supreme Court found in favor of the federal
government and against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative.
news was cheered by characters who had long extolled the virtue of
minimizing federal interference in the affairs of the 50 states. But
since these rather less-than-compassionate conservatives have
consistently seemed happy to defer to Uncle Sam on certain issues –
especially on personal and medical matters – perhaps it would it be more
appropriate to call these squirrelly states-rights advocates
It seems many who are still opposed
to medical marijuana only see another battle line in their perpetual
cultural warfare against anything they connect to the "permissiveness"
of the '60s. Rather than noting the heartbreaking need of a cancer
patient, these partisans are only concerned with what message
recognizing the legitimacy of medical marijuana could send. They see it
as a slippery slope toward legalization.
Of course, the news from
the highest court was not applauded in all circles. The unlucky folks
who were more likely to be denied access to relief from their
chemotherapy-related nausea probably weren't cheering the Supreme
Court's so-called wisdom.
More than 20 years ago, I witnessed a
scene that comes into my mind every time this topic comes up. The
unusual transaction took place in an old friend's carriage house art
As planned, I showed up at about 5 p.m. to give my
teammate a ride to a softball game scheduled to start at 6 p.m. As it
turned out, we had to wait for his brother to stop by to score some pot.
he was a regular consumer, my friend was not ordinarily a dealer in
such commodities. On top of that, the artist's older brother was a
buttoned-down lawyer who had never smoked pot in his life. So, on the
face of it, the situation seemed odd.
The artist explained that
his brother had asked him to buy the pot for a senior partner at his law
firm. The partner wanted it for a client of his who had an advanced
form of cancer. Apparently the patient, a retired judge, had been told
by his doctor that smoking marijuana might help. The doctor indicated he
wasn't in a position to help with actually obtaining the contraband. As
the story went, the judge asked his friend and personal attorney for
some discreet help with the matter.
Moments later, the
blue-suited lawyer arrived. As he accepted the parcel – a brown paper
bag containing a plastic bag filled with two ounces of primo weed – the
lawyer laughed nervously and said toward me, "I suppose he told you
what's going on?"
Indicating I was aware of the circumstances, I
asked about something that had just occurred to me: Would this old judge
know what to do with the stuff in order to smoke it? Did he know to
remove the seeds and stems? Did he have a pipe, or know how to roll a
The lawyer was stumped. But he admitted it was likely the
judge would not know how to handle it. He chuckled and said this
particular man was about as old-fashioned and straight-laced as they
"Good point," said the artist, pulling out a tablet of drawing paper.
he started to create a set of written instructions, with simple
pen-and-ink drawings to illustrate each step. As the guide was put
together – it probably made us late for the softball game – the three of us
polished off half a six pack of cold beer and talked about the bizarre
Finishing his mission of mercy, the artist had a few
words for his always-cautious brother. In essence, my friend said –
"Here's this old judge, who would have been happy to throw any of us in
jail yesterday for possession of this same bag. Now the judge is in a
jam. His doctor can't help him. Neither can his preacher. No, in his
darkest hour of need, the judge has to turn to the only Good Samaritan
available, an unrepentant hippie willing to break the law out of
kindness for a stranger in need."
Then my friend threw a pack of rolling papers into the bag, so the novice pot-smoker would have what he needed to get started.
the Controlled Substances Act does not allow for an exception for
"medical necessity," the Supreme Court basically threw up its hands and
said it could find no way to protect California's suppliers of medical
marijuana from federal prosecution.
Hey, if the patient says it
helps and his doctor says it helps, why isn't that good enough?
humanitarian reasons, the argument of whether to allow for obtaining
marijuana for doctor-authorized treatment simply must be separated from
strategies for, or against, legalizing marijuana across the board.
needs to sweep away the cobwebs and take a hard look at amending its
Controlled Substances Act. Much has been learned about these matters
since 1970. Naive as it might sound, I'd still like to believe there's a
difference between being conservative and being cruel.
How anyone can continue to advocate
denying medical marijuana to those in need beats the hell out of me. In economic tough times, how states can
afford to have laws still on the books that aim to stamp out the
use of marijuana is mystifying. Yet, the
taxpayers' money still being spent to arrest and imprison unlucky people