MEDICAL MARIJUANA: USA Today Endorses Ballot Initiatives
A USA Today editorial today endorses ballot initiatives in five states and the District of Columbia that would legalize the medical use of marijuana. According to the editorial, the "anecdotal evidence is compelling: Thousands of patients use pot in small doses to relieve the side effects of AIDS and cancer treatments or to treat chronic pain and glaucoma symptoms." The editorial notes a 1991 Harvard study that found "almost half" of oncologists surveyed "had recommended marijuana to some patients." USA Today goes on to argue that marijuana "is less dangerous than amphetamines or cocaine, both of which can be prescribed in small quantities." Though critics contend that legalizing medical marijuana would open the door to further legalization and send a bad message to young people, the editorial says these fears do not "justify a needlessly rigid ban on a doctor's sincere effort to do what's best for a suffering patient." USA Today concludes that the 1996 passage of medical marijuana initiatives in Arizona and California, coupled with "the favorable pre-election polls in most places where it's on the ballot this year suggest the public is sending an important message: 'Just say no' is no answer to suffering people and compassionate physicians" (USA Today, 10/30).
Where's The Science?
In USA Today's "Opposing View" column, White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey and his deputy, Dr. Donald Vereen, argue that there is no scientific justification for approving marijuana for medical use: "[O]ur collective interest is better served when proved, scientific process -- not the ballot box -- minister to illness." They note that the "active ingredient in the cannabis leaf, THC," has been available in pill form for 15 years and that the Food and Drug Administration "has encouraged the pharmaceutical industry to develop other methods for administering THC." The officials stress that the "current scientific process will" ensure that any other marijuana components "found to be medically valuable" will be made available to the public. Finally, they stress that approving medical marijuana use would "send the wrong message to children," writing, "If we lower societal barriers further, marijuana use among youth surely will escalate along with the negative consequences of drug abuse" (USA Today, 10/30).
A National Question
Today's Boston Globe reports that the growing movement in favor of medical marijuana use "may signal a subtle shift in public debate away from the punitive war on drugs that emphasized criminality to legislating a more tolerant attitude toward drug use." Pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Medical Rights makes the case that the initiatives "are narrowly focused on helping people with AIDS or cancer patients on chemotherapy." AMR's David Fratello said, "The ultimate goal is to change federal policy." The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws reports that medical marijuana initiatives will likely be on the ballot in Illinois, Ohio, Maine and Florida in the next round of elections (Palmer, 10/30).