Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Situational Conservatives on Medical Marijuana

As friend of mine is undergoing chemotherapy, I have been reminded of this piece I wrote in 2001 for Richmond.com.


On 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.

The 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 "situational conservatives."

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 studio.

As planned, I showed up at about 5:15 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.

Although 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 joint?

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 come.

"Good point," said the artist, pulling out a tablet of drawing paper.

Then 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 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 situation.

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.

Since 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? For 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.

Congress 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. Naïve as it might sound, I'd still like to believe there's a difference between being conservative and being cruel.


Joel said...

There are numerous studies pointing to marijuana's medical benefits. Visit NORML's site for details.
Properly regulated & taxed, it could solve Virginia's budget crisis.

Scott said...

From www.ReeferMadnessMuseum.org

While at the DEA Library (Alexandra Va.), I was able to obtain selected pages (dealing with Marihuana) of the 1938, Federal Bureau of narcotics Field Manual. It helps explain a lot about the origin of the anti-Medical marihuana laws. Below are just two examples:


ANSWER simple: Remembering that at the time Doctors were in great fear of the Drug laws (even one of the founders of the AMA had been sent to jail due to the overzealous enforcement narcotics laws), Harry Anslinger must have seemed like a God sent. Just look at some of the roadblocks that Anslinger Field Manual put in the way.

Section 17-10 . . .The use of an addict, who is suffering from some ailment for which the use of narcotic drugs might reasonably be indicated, as an informer in the development of a case involving a violation of the narcotic laws on the part of a physician is manifestly unfair and an imposition upon the medical profession. Therefore the employment of such type of addict in the investigation of any physician is absolutely prohibited. . [AND]. . Services of Informer Having Possible Medical Need for Narcotics not to be Utilized in Investigation Involving a Practitioner of the Healing Arts or a Druggist: [etc., etc.]

TRANSLATION; Thanks to Anslinger, it all but became impossible for the narc’s to harass a member of the AMA. Why than go out of the way to piss him off.



Section 63 - When a physician is found to be dispensing or prescribing large quantities of narcotics in cancer cases, a copy of Supplement No. 121 to the Public Health Reports of the United States Public Health Service entitled "The Relief of Pain in Cancer Patients" should be handed to him with the suggestion that he read it carefully. This pamphlet emphasizes the desirability, medically, of limiting the use of opiates to a minimum in such cases.

NOTE --- as a historical fact, Anslinger died a (legal) morphine addict. It seems that he developed some kind of medical illness for which [relief of pain] was required.

--- Hum!, same all story, do as I say and NOT AS I DO.

Jeff said...

Great article, being I was the person named in the federal lawsuit with the OCBC case, I know all too well the outcomes of the inhuman ruling from May of 2001. But we never gave up and are now working with the California State/County government to ID patients and caregivers that legally use medical cannabis in California. www.patientidcenter.org

The truth is coming out that cannabis saves lives; we are the true pro-life movement. The others like those mentioned in this article that on occasion support state rights when they want them, are just using the name when they feel like saving the young unborn, yet adults that are suffering are left to just have only the hope of relief, instead of real relief from a god given plant on this earth.

After watching my father pass away while in hospice staying in my childhood home, my life will never be the same, nor will I stand by and allow another young child to see there love one pass without action. Education is the answer, not ignorance.

Nixon's law is unjust and outdated, the CSA should have never placed cannabis into schedule I status. We must all work to update this law.

Jeff Jones
(323) 852-1039

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rhino white said...

People who are conservatives and against marijuana are a bunch of hypocrites. They deny people to smoke marijuana, but they have nothing against cigarettes. Nicotine is classified as an addictive drug and it should be illegal. Cigarettes also contain over 300+ chemicals that can cause cancer... Should I say more? I guess I'll just stop here and let people draw their own conclusions.

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