Plant war update
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on March 1, 2007.
Apparently we Americans have nothing better to do with our resources than to wage war on an herb and those who use it for medicinal or recreational purposes. But the war on the plant marijuana is a failure. It doesn't work. And it wastes money, undermines our liberty, creates violence, funds criminals and corrupts law enforcement. Following are a few news items from the front.
On Jan. 4, Sensible Colorado (SensibleColorado.org) sent out a press release about James and Lisa Masters of Fort Collins. The release states, "The Masters, who are both medical marijuana patients and caregivers, are charged with one count each of felony marijuana cultivation... They are the first medical marijuana caregivers to go to trial in Colorado and the defense team, led by attorneys Rob Corry and Brian Vicente, will pursue the Caregiver Defense arguing that Colorado's Amendment 20 allows caregivers to cultivate and sell marijuana to seriously ill individuals."
Vicente said, "The Masters are being targeted for providing help to sick people."
Check out Joshua Zaffos's two outstanding articles for the Feb. 8 Colorado Springs Independent (csindy.com) for more information about the case. One twist that Zaffos recounts in his piece, "Tokin' opposition," is that, while Vicente was "schooling a roomful of defense lawyers on how to represent medical marijuana patients," Larimer Deputy District Attorney Thomas Lynch was caught observing the meeting and was ejected.
The persecution of medical-marijuana providers is obscene. The proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights. In this case, government agents are actively violating people's rights. State agents are initiating force against citizens who are both innocent of wrongdoing and physically disabled.
Does marijuana work? It is not the legitimate job of politicians or law enforcement agents to make such calls. It is a decision properly left to patients and their doctors. But the evidence is in: Marijuana is effective for some medical uses.
For example, Sabin Russell writes for the Feb. 12 San Francisco Chronicle, "Doctors at San Francisco General Hospital reported today that HIV-infected patients suffering from a painful nerve condition in their hands or feet obtained substantial relief by smoking small amounts of marijuana in a carefully constructed study funded by the State of California." The full study, led by Dr. D.I. Abrams, may be found in Neurology's Feb. 13 edition (neurology.org).
According to a Feb. 14 e-mail from the Marijuana Policy Project (mpp.org), David Murray of the White House drug czar's office replied, "People who smoke marijuana are subject to bacterial infections in the lungs. Is this really what a physician who is treating someone with a compromised immune system wants to prescribe?"
But practically all drugs have side-effects, and it is the responsibility of doctors working with their patients, not stooges of federal "czars," to make such decisions. Besides, marijuana can be consumed in ways other than smoking, and presumably that would maintain the health benefits while eliminating the problems related to smoke.
However, even some drug-war insiders are questioning some of the excesses of this war. A Feb. 13 article by Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers (linked through The Denver Post's web page) reports, "In an emphatic but nonbinding opinion, the Drug Enforcement Administration's own judge [Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner] is recommending that a University of Massachusetts professor be allowed to grow a legal pot crop. The real winners could be those suffering from painful and wasting diseases, proponents believe."
Ironically, the professor, Lyle Craker, is working on vaporizers, a technology that reduces the risk of smoke. "The Bush administration... has remained hostile to Craker's research efforts," Doyle reports. So this administration simultaneously criticizes medical marijuana for its unhealthy smoke and undermines efforts to remove this risk.
While the government's war against the sick is particularly heinous, the general marijuana war is also immoral and impractical.
A Feb. 13 AP article reports, "A judge has resigned to protest a proposal to impose stiffer city penalties in Lafayette for marijuana possession. Leon Frieling, a Boulder attorney, resigned Monday as an associate municipal judge, citing an ordinance that would set a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of up to a year for marijuana. The existing city fine is $100, the same penalty set under state law."
A Feb. 16 e-mail from SAFER (SaferChoice.org) reported that the Lafayette council withdrew the measure. SAFER warns, "Although this particular ordinance has been killed, it may be back in a couple months."
Finally, a new report indicates the massive failure of the war on marijuana. Jon Gettman's "Marijuana Production in the United States (2006)" is available at DrugScience.org.
The executive summary states, "Marijuana is the largest cash crop in the United States, more valuable than corn and wheat combined. Using conservative price estimates domestic marijuana production has a value of $35.8 billion...
"Despite intensive eradication efforts domestic marijuana production has increased tenfold over the last 25 years from 1,000 metric tons (2.2 million pounds) in 1981 to 10,000 metric tons (22 million pounds) in 2006, according to federal government estimates."
Colorado ranks 27, with an estimated 67,514 plants, 29,768 pounds, and a cash value of $47,807,000. This war has been lost. It is an immoral war that should never have been started. It's time to end it.