Editorial: Long in the Making 2/20/04

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 2/20/04

David Borden

One of the major breakthrough issues of relevance to drug policy reform the last few decades has been the emergence of medical marijuana as a popular, mainstream issue. Medical marijuana, in the modern political sense, has been long in the making. At least as far back as the 1980s, pioneers like Bob Randall, whose lawsuit led to the establishment of the small program under which seven patients still receive medical marijuana legally from the government, or early patient/activists Barbara and Kenny Jenks, were pushing the envelope and undertaking the hard, slow-paced work of mounting the early stages of what they hoped would be a movement and a solution to an injustice.

It doesn't seem so long ago, then, when former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan contributed to the medical marijuana debate by telling a Los Angeles Times reporter on February 26, 1995, "I have no problem whatsoever with the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I am sensitive and compassionate to people who have legitimate needs. We should bend the law and do what's right."

Some time has passed by now since even then, of course. Nine years and several ballot initiatives later, San Francisco is still kind to patients needing medical marijuana and Washington's federal uber-oppressors and their henchmen around the country are still cruel.

Fitting, perhaps, that Jordan's compassionate quote should be recollected during Americans for Safe Access' Medical Marijuana Week 2004 (http://www.safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=785). Though Randall and his fellow pioneers have left us, their cause continues and has become something greater than they might have dared to imagine. Numerous acts of courage and solidarity honor their commitment to helping others. An enthusiastic and committed grassroots movement around the country rallies to the defense and doctors and patients. And Congressional intransigence notwithstanding, victory may be within their grasp; I believe that legalization of medical marijuana is all but inevitable.

That said, I'm not sure I agree with everything Mayor Jordan said on that day. Of course I agree with his call for sensitivity and compassion. But I don't think it's necessary to "bend the law" in this case to do what's right. It's the other side that has bent the law to their dark will. The Constitution -- the nation's highest law -- is one our side, not theirs -- not according to Court rulings, perhaps, but in truth. The law banning medical use and prescribing of marijuana, like all the drug laws, is based on an "interpretation" of the Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause that is stretched beyond belief. The power to regulate interstate commerce does not rationally translate into permission for the federal government to pass laws permitting armed agents of the state to break down doors, handcuff patients and their providers and caretakers, and lock them inside metal cages in prison buildings for using and dealing in marijuana grown inside of a state's borders for use in medical treatment. The same, of course, goes for non-medical use.

The warping of the Interstate Commerce Clause to serve the political purposes of drug warriors is also long in the making. Americans for the most part are unaware of the nation's past before drugs were banned but society didn't fall apart. Scenarios in which currently illegal drugs are managed in a different way, even medical prescribing of marijuana, still seem surreal in the context of current US culture and politics. But that is conditioning only.

Long in the making though it be, the unmaking of drug prohibition is a just cause and must be done. It is possible, if all of us do our part.

-- END --
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