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Pot Got You Confused? You Must Be the DEA

Raids on medical marijuana are reefer madness.

September 25, 2002|GERALD F. UELMEN | Gerald F. Uelmen, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, represents the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in a federal court challenge to the Sept. 5 DEA search.

The leaders of the federal war on drugs are upset. At the very moment they were launching a multimillion-dollar media campaign to educate parents and kids about the risks of marijuana, the city fathers of Santa Cruz gathered on the steps of City Hall to witness the distribution of marijuana to the patients of a medical marijuana collective.

A representative of the Drug Enforcement Administration decried the confusion this will create among our adolescent population: The Santa Cruz festivities sent "the wrong message."

That's the same phrase government officials used in 1992 when they closed down the federal government's Compassionate Investigative New Drug program to distribute government-grown marijuana to the sick and dying. When the program was deluged with applications from AIDS patients, federal authorities decided that compassion was going too far and closed off new applications because the program was "sending the wrong message." Distribution was continued for previously enrolled patients, six of whom still survive.

One of the real ironies of the gathering in Santa Cruz was the presence of one of those six patients, holding the canister of marijuana cigarettes she received from the U.S. government, sitting beside the hundreds of patients whose marijuana had just been taken away by the U.S. government.

If kids are confused about marijuana, it's not because they can't understand why sick people want to use a widely abused drug as medicine. Even kids can understand the difference between recreational abuse of a substance and therapeutic use under the care of a physician. We make that distinction with cocaine and narcotics, both of which are widely abused but can be prescribed by a physician.

The real confusion about marijuana for most kids is trying to figure out why it's so different from alcohol. The government's "Open Letter to Parents" published in American newspapers last week talked about the havoc that marijuana can cause in high-pressure social situations, leading to risky decision-making on such issues as sex, criminal activity or riding with someone who is driving high.

Although marijuana certainly contributes to such risky behavior, it accounts for a much smaller proportion of teenage sex, criminality and driving high than does alcohol. Why is a multimillion-dollar government ad campaign on drug education leaving out alcohol, the No. 1 killer of our teens? It's rather confusing.

The best message to send to young people is the simple truth. And the simple truth about medical marijuana was with those patients who limped across the steps of Santa Cruz City Hall. The simple truth has been discovered by thousands of AIDS patients, wasting away from loss of appetite, and thousands of cancer patients, vomiting away their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Marijuana helps many of these people when other drugs don't. Their physicians agree but are prohibited from writing a prescription for marijuana by federal law. Many of these patients are dying and aren't particularly concerned whether marijuana is carcinogenic or addictive. They are more concerned with keeping their breakfast down and their weight up, so they can benefit from the other medical treatments their doctors are prescribing.

During the last year, 40 of the patients served by the Santa Cruz collective died, four of them during the week before the DEA raid. The collective functioned as a hospice, and Valerie Corral, the director of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, was holding the hands of many of these patients when they passed on.

As a result of the federal raid, many patients in Santa Cruz have been condemned to a more painful, agonizing death. If the leaders of the U.S. drug war think that compassion for the sick and dying is the "wrong message," they are badly confused. If they think that the scarce resources available to suppress heroin trafficking and methamphetamine production should be used to send 30 agents armed with M-16s into the mountains of Santa Cruz to harass the sick and dying, they are worse than confused.

They are demented.

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