Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, ajsmith@drcnet.org

This week, Governor George Bush indicated that he, like other conservatives, believes in the concept of states' rights. Unlike many of his philosophical brethren, however, Bush, when asked, was unwilling to make an exception when the issue of medical marijuana was brought up.

Saying that he was opposed to the medicinal use of marijuana, Bush went on to say that the decision should nevertheless be left in the hands of the states. This is a significant policy position, in that under President Clinton and the Republican congress, the federal government has done everything in its power -- and some things that the federal courts have deemed to be beyond its power -- to stop six states and the District of Colombia from implementing the will of their voters on the issue. And there are more statewide medical marijuana initiatives in the pipeline.

How refreshing then to find a major party candidate for President who does not believe that the federal government has the right, the duty even, to lay down the law on anything that he or she personally opposes, regardless of the will of the people. Bill Bradley is on record as saying that he doesn't think that current laws should be changed, and Vice President Gore has spent the past two terms as part of the very administration that threatened to prosecute doctors for even mentioning marijuana to their patients. (A federal court has since blocked any such action on First Amendment grounds.)

But Bush's statement regarding the states' right to determine their own policies in this area are likely to bring him the greatest amount of grief in his own party and at home. Congressional Republicans have been the most ardent proponents of federal action in opposition to the medical use of marijuana. Last week, in fact, they passed a DC appropriations bill which struck down a medical marijuana initiative that passed in the District by a whopping 69-21%. And that followed a period of nearly ten months during which the results of that vote were kept from the public under a rider attached to last year's appropriations bill by Georgia Republican Bob Barr.

The most difficult person for Bush to explain himself to, however, is likely to be his mother, Barbara Bush. The former first lady not only opposes the medicinal use of marijuana, she went so far as to lend her voice to an anti-medical marijuana advertisement which ran in a number of the initiative states, and that is likely to be run again in the final weeks of the medical marijuana campaign going on now in Maine. Apparently, mom doesn't share her son's enthusiasm for local control.

George Bush Jr., with his record of advocacy for punitive drug laws in Texas and his fudging on the question of his own past drug use, isn't likely to be anyone's idea of a reform-minded President when it comes to drug policy. But on this issue, he has found the balance and the sanity that has somehow eluded the national elected officials of both major parties as they have struggled to stem the tide of public opinion.

Sick and suffering people and their doctors should be allowed to take whatever reasonably safe measures they deem necessary to make life bearable for the patient. Marijuana hasn't killed a single patient in more than 4,000 years of medicinal use. If a relative handful of cancer, AIDS and other patients truly believe that it will help... why make a federal issue out of it?

-- END --
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Issue #113, 10/22/99 California Reports Record Percentage of Drug Prisoners: One in Eight Imprisoned for Simple Possession of Drugs | Marijuana Arrests Stay at Record-High Level: FBI Reports 682,885 Marijuana Arrests in 1998, 88% for Possession | NORML Foundation Releases Report Detailing European Marijuana Policies | Maine Sheriff Endorses Medical Marijuana | Just Say Know: New Directions in Drug Education -- Conference in SF Next Week | Safety First: Reality-Based Drug Education Booklet Published by The Lindesmith Center | Newsbriefs | San Francisco Beats New York at Crime Reduction | Newsbriefs | Publication Suspended of New Book Claiming George W. Bush Arrested for Cocaine in '72 | Elizabeth Dole Drops Out of Race | Editorial: Whose life is it anyway?
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