March 23, 1997

The success of medical marijuana initiatives in Arizona and California in last fall's elections prompted the predictable response from Drug Warriors. However, two mundane experiences from the real world demonstrate that these rantings amount to, as Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, "sound and fury signifying nothing."

When I was in boot camp in 1983, I had my wisdom teeth pulled. The dentist, a Navy commander, gave me an industrial strength dose of pain killers. During the operation, and for about two hours afterward, I was barely able to speak coherently, let alone drive a car, fly an airplane, or operate a table saw.

I have a co-worker who is an active tennis and roller hockey player. By anyone's reckoning, he is in superb health. That is, except for his diabetes, for which he takes daily injections of insulin. From time to time, this insulin produces feelings of lightheadedness and, as he describes it, makes him "feel drunk."

Both novocain and insulin have characteristics which, under other circumstances, would cause them to be illegal. Republicans would argue that, because these drugs make you goofy, they should be outlawed. Democrats would argue that these drugs are not 100 percent safe and that they should, therefore, be outlawed. Doctors prescribe them routinely to countless people, many of whom would never so much as drink a beer or smoke a cigarette. There is no epidemic of novocain or insulin use, or any criminal subculture trafficking in these drugs.

Marijuana, on the other hand, does not have the blessing of the FDA, the DEA, the AMA or any of the other alphabet soup organizations which act as our medical gatekeepers. Even though many legal substances have the same effects as marijuana, a veritable propaganda jihad is being waged to make sure that marijuana remains illegal in all circumstances. This is happening despite the fact that marijuana has been shown to have very positive medicinal benefits for people suffering from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, migraines, and other maladies.

Opponents of medical marijuana argue that there are already legal drugs which produce benefits similar to marijuana, and that medical marijuana is therefore not necessary. Medical evidence reveals that marijuana works faster than other drugs to relieve certain forms of suffering, and that dosages of marijuana are easier to regulate on a case by case basis. Marijuana is also less expensive than other remedies. The decision whether or not to use marijuana ought to remain between doctors and patients.

Some say that marijuana should remain illegal because it has never been tested medicinally. Well, gee, I wonder why. I mean, like, you could go to jail for doing studies with results which might, you know like, help people. Actually, there have been several tests of marijuana for medicinal proposes, which have discovered, among other things, that marijuana smoking can cure glaucoma. The whole business of outlawing even the testing of medical marijuana points up just one more unintended consequence of the Drug War.

Some say that marijuana should remain illegal in all circumstances because it is a "gateway drug", the use of which "leads to" the use of harder drugs. The huge majority of people who smoke marijuana never become potheads, much less go on to use anything stronger. Moreover, why do we draw the line with marijuana? Haven't most crackheads also used alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine? Why do not these drugs "lead to" crack addiction? Should we not, therefore, also outlaw these drugs? (William F. Buckley points out that all rapists have at one time or another masturbated. Is masturbation a "gateway " behavior, which should also be criminalized?)

Conservatives, who so rightfully inveigh against political correctness, have made drug prohibition the object of more political correctness than any other issue. Whenever someone raises the subject of ending the Drug War, or even legalizing medical marijuana, liberals and conservatives alike descend on that person as if they had suggested that the earth was flat. They are far more concerned with spouting the party line than they are with providing any kind of serious defense for their position.

If marijuana were 100 percent safe, it would be the only 100 percent safe substance on the planet. There are plenty of drugs available, which do wonderful things for countless people, in spite of their harmful side effects. Novocain and insulin are just two cases in point. I am allergic to a family of drugs known as sulfa drugs, which no doubt benefit numerous people. There are even people who are allergic to penicillin. I would not recommend getting behind a steering wheel immediately after a belt of Nyquil.

Even if you favor the Drug War, opposition to medicinal use of marijuana represents the same brand of fanaticism which, in the 1940s, led the United States to send thousands of Japanese-Americans to internment camps on the name of fighting Japan. Ironically, Japanese-Americans who were allowed to join the military were among the most decorated servicemen of World War II. Likewise, marijuana, if legalized for medical purposes, may prove one of the safest, most effective, and most inexpensive drugs available. The real crime is that the government, for no good reason, may jail you for even investigating this possibility.

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