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Jewish World Review April 2, 2001 / 9 Nissan 5761

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

High Court? Cancel prescription for medical marijuana -- IF marijuana is medicine, Dr. Kevorkian wrote the prescription.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States of America vs. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative. At issue is whether the nation's drug laws can be nullified for so-called medical necessity. The court could go further and decide that state laws legalizing pot for medical purposes are unconstitutional because drug policy is an area pre-empted by federal law.

California is one of eight states whose citizens decided they were competent to make scientific judgments. In 1996, voters passed Proposition 215, allowing anyone to treat himself with a joint for any illness, on a physician's recommendation.

The initiative was heavily funded with out-of-state money. (Three individuals alone contributed more than $600,000.) After the question passed, its author told an interviewer that everyone who smokes pot is "self-medicating," thus all marijuana use is medicinal. Calling Dr. Cheech. Calling Dr. Chong.

Medical marijuana is the compassion cover for legalization. Ethan Nadelmann, a spokesman for George Soros (a billionaire backer of the California initiative) has stated, "Ultimately our drug policy should be based upon one very simple notion: that people should not be discriminated against based upon the substance they consume."

An article in Proceedings of the Association of American Physicians observes, "Most supporters of medical marijuana are hostile to the use of purified chemicals from marijuana, insisting that only smoked marijuana leaves be used as 'medicine,' revealing clearly that their motivation is not scientific medicine but backdoor legalization."

There are more than 400 chemicals in raw marijuana; most have never been analyzed. Its potency can vary greatly from batch to batch.

Marijuana is a narcotic. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, marijuana use accounted for 87,150 emergency-room admissions in 1999, up 455 percent from a decade earlier. Longtime users (who spend an estimated 27 percent of their income on the drug) suffer withdrawal symptoms and usually need some type of therapy to stop.

Medical marijuana is a way to persuade the public that pot is benign. It's also great for getting kids hooked. If adults tell them that marijuana helps cancer patients, how bad can it be? "Just say no to medicine" is not an effective slogan.

An increase in juvenile pot use has coincided with the medical marijuana campaign. The number of eighth-graders who'd used marijuana at least once went from 10.2 percent in 1991 to 20.3 percent in 2000.

Former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano (with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) reports, "12- to 17-year-olds who smoke marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than those who don't."

The drug lobby counters that most causal users never progress to harder drugs. But when an adolescent becomes used to the effects of marijuana, many are prepared, physically and psychologically, to seek a more intense high.

Ginger Katz of Norwalk, Conn., understands this all too well. Several years ago, her son called from college. "Crying, he told his father he'd been snorting heroin for four months and couldn't stop," Katz relates. "'Please come and help me,' he said."

His family did. There was rehab and out-patient programs. But there were also relapses. Several months later, Ian Katz died of an overdose at age 20. He started smoking pot when he was 13.

Today, Ginger is the head of Courage to Speak, composed of individuals who've lost a loved one to drugs. On Wednesday, she held a picture of Ian in a silent vigil outside the Supreme Court building.

"People underestimate marijuana. I don't," Katz says. "The condoning of this gives a message to young people that it's OK. You're defeating all of the good anti-drug programs out there."

A ruling is expected in June. In their questions, the justices seemed suitably skeptical.

Justice Anthony Kennedy disagreed that medical marijuana was a narrow exception to the federal Controlled Substances Act. "That's a huge rewrite of the statute," Kennedy commented. The huge rewrite is also a deadly prescription.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate