Book Review: The Politics of Medical Marijuana 2/16/01

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"Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana" by Alan Bock ($18.95 pb, Seven Locks Press)

With "Waiting to Inhale," journalist Alan Bock provides the most definitive treatment yet of California's five-year experiment with medical marijuana -- and much more. An essayist and editorial writer for the Orange County Register, Bock has been covering the issue for more than a decade, and he brings a well-informed perspective to bear on this complex and contradictory subject.

Bock also goes beyond California, surveying medical marijuana initiatives and legislation in other states and describing how they have learned from California's experience. He details the grassroots activism of scruffy radicals and the big-money campaigns of George Soros and his fellow millionaire reformers. Bock has talked to everyone from intensely skeptical cops and prosecutors to patients, doctors, growers, and activists, and he skillfully paints portraits of the sometimes clashing personalities involved.

In so doing, Bock opens a window on the cultural and political differences in the reform movement -- the divide between "suits" and "hippies" -- or "ties" and "tye-dyes" for lack of better terms -- represented most classically, if not entirely cleanly, by the Soros-funded Americans for Medical Rights (AMR) and the local-level grassroots activists who want to push far beyond AMR's limited agenda and who accuse the "suits" of kowtowing to law enforcement concerns at the expense of suffering patients.

Five years after California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), access to medical marijuana remains problematic in large parts of the state. In fact, it would be fair to say that the state is in effect a patchwork quilt of medical marijuana laws negotiated at the city or county level among reformers, elected officials, law enforcement, and other stake-holders. Bock does readers a great service in disentangling the snarled web of court cases through which medical marijuana law in California is actually being created. He also points out how the intentional ambiguities in the wording of the CUA -- over, for examples, the medical conditions to which it might apply, the amount of marijuana allowed, and the means of obtaining it -- provided openings for recalcitrant officials, ranging from then Attorney General Dan Lundgren to local cops and prosecutors, to override the clearly expressed will of the voters.

Bock also delves into the science of medical marijuana, providing a concise synopsis of the state of research. And in one of his more provocative chapters, he dissects the rigid resistance to medical marijuana in the state and federal drug war bureaucracies. Here Bock echoes Dan Baum and Mike Gray in their argument that marijuana prohibition is the linchpin of the drug war, and any easing of the marijuana laws would call the entire enterprise into question. But he also recognizes the institutional imperatives behind such opposition. There are, after all, jobs on the line.

While some may complain that the book has, for instance, too much Dennis Peron and not enough Chris Conrad, or too much Bill Zimmerman and not enough Steve Kubby, or vice versa, those plaints are mild. Bock has produced a remarkably comprehensive and even-handed, although clearly sympathetic, portrait of an increasingly powerful social movement. It should be read by all concerned with the workings of political and social change, not only, but especially for drug policy. For those university professors who wish to teach Medical Marijuana Politics 101, the textbook has been written.

(Ask for "Waiting to Inhale" in your local bookstore, or click to to buy it online and DRCNet will earn a royalty on your purchase.)

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Issue #173, 2/16/01 Incarceration Fever About to Break? Prison Populations Leveling Off in Some Big States | California's "Three Strikes" Law Continues to Snare Mainly Drug and Nonviolent Offenders | John Ashcroft's Drug War | Oklahoma Meth Mess | One Third of Indigenous Prisoners in Mexico Imprisoned on Drug Charges | New Site Uses Traffic Movie to Raise Awareness, Free Daily DVD or Video Give-Away for Participants | Book Review: The Politics of Medical Marijuana | Errata: Ecstasy Conference, Calendar | The Reformer's Calendar | Editorial: A Postcard from Mexico
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