More MS news articles for May 2001

Humane pot use should be the law

Editorials & Opinion : Tuesday, May 15, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company

Washington law, passed by popular vote in 1998 with a 59 percent majority, allows the use of marijuana for treatment of cancer, Crohn's disease, HIV, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, spasticity disorders, glaucoma and intractable pain.

Federal law, passed in 1970, declares that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use at all." So said the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in a ruling that may be grounded in the law but makes bad policy for the 21st century.

Many people infected with HIV have to take handfuls of pills every day. Their body's natural defense is to vomit. By suppressing this reaction, marijuana allows patients to keep their medicine down and stay alive. To them, it is a medical necessity. But the high court said yesterday that medical necessity doesn't matter, because the federal law does not allow for it.

The federal law should be changed. Marijuana, classified by Congress as a Schedule One drug with no medical uses, should be reclassified to allow it to be prescribed by a doctor, grown under federal supervision and dispensed by prescription.

Even without that change, the more permissive laws of nine states (Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Maine) make a difference. Federal law targets manufacture and sale, not simple possession. Federal agents typically target big traffickers.

Washington law allows individuals with a doctor's recommendation to have a 60-day supply. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, has sponsored a bill that would allow the state to define what a 60-day supply is. The bill, which has been blocked by some House Republicans, should be passed.

Local practice is not to prosecute medicinal users. "Nobody wants to have a terminally ill defendant before a jury," says Dan Satterberg, chief of staff for the King County prosecutor.

That is good sense. Logically, it makes far less sense to allow people to use a product but not to buy or sell it. But it is better to be illogical than inhumane.