Bob Marley sang about it; Clinton smoked it; Britain and Canada recently allowed it – so why does America lag behind?
Already, eight US states have taken initiatives permitting the use of medicinal marijuana: California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada and Colorado. A handful more, including Arizona and Ohio, has reduced penalties for smoking pot to a simple slap on the wrist.
But state and national laws still clash; a pot smoker caught using even in permissive states may have to face the Feds. How is it that prescriptions can be used as a legal defense by patients in court if arrested, but filling those prescriptions is a federal crime?
Before and during our nation’s Nov 5th election, the arguments were heated. Drug Czar John Walters had been fighting with fists of fury against the trio financially backing the fight for legalization; they include billionaires George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling. Both sides have taken extreme stands on the issue, forcing Americans to choose: to legalize pot, or not?
Although the “gateway drug” argument has been used against marijuana time and time again, cannabis is in fact less harmful than alcohol and doesn’t necessarily lead to harder drugs. Marijuana has been known to calm the muscle spasms due to Multiple Sclerosis and relieve the nausea after chemotherapy. A blunt can make severe arthritis bearable and the ‘munchies’ can do wonders for an 80-pound AIDS/HIV patient. Despite parents sneaking a few puffs while their kids are asleep (a newly found phenomenon) the polls still show that Americans see the drug as “bad” because of its counterculture association: Cheeto-eating, Gameboy playing, unemployed slackers still living with the folks.
Although there is no scientific proof that THC is medicinal, testimonials from patients living with these diseases have been so overwhelmingly convincing that the Canadian government decided to listen. The new regulations, effective in 2001, are the first of their kind; they include a government approved and funded supply of marijuana for people suffering from terminal diseases and chronic conditions. Also, patients can grow their own supply, or choose someone else to grow it for them (obviously it’s not OK for anyone to start a hydroponics lab in their basement); legal pot smokers will have to carry a photo ID and must prove the need for the drug, usually through medical records and a doctor’s approval.
England’s recent policy, passed July of this year, puts marijuana in the same category as anabolic steroids and growth hormones. It calls for a “seize and warn” approach to those caught with pot on them (a.k.a. possession). Not all aspects of the new drug reforms are slack. Parliament did increase the maximum penalty for dealing drugs almost triple: from 5 years to 14 years in prison. This controversy caused some friction on both sides of the issue, specifically England’s longtime Drug Czar, Keith Hellawell, who resigned in protest to the reforms. The changes, of course, have not gone on unnoticed; entrepreneurial businessmen, anticipating the softer pot laws, already opened up cannabis cafés similar to those in Amsterdam, where you can buy and light up with out harassment. Since the policy change, British officers have arrested 10% more hard drug dealers since they stopped arresting pot users.
In America, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) applauded the Brits, saying America’s changes wouldn’t be too different from theirs. Pro-pot enthusiasts say the federal government’s opposition to their cause is hypocritical; our government presently supplies medical marijuana to eight patients through the Compassionate IND (Investigational New Drug) program administered by the FDA itself.
Despite our current Republican government, support for the legalization of marijuana is growing. Californians have been struggling with the issue since 1996, when they first began to soften the laws on pot users. Now, the new California law allows seriously ill people (with doctor’s “written or oral permission”) to cultivate, possess and use marijuana to relieve symptoms. The Arizona ballot asks for legal possession of marijuana for up to 2 ounces. Ohio and Washington ballots require education and treatment, instead of prison, for people convicted of use or personal possession of pot. Nevada’s ballot issue may have been the most progressive yet in America; it legalizes possession of up to 3 ounces, authorizes the opening of state-licensed marijuana shops and makes the drug available – cheap – for medical purposes.
Much of the anti-drug advertisements specifically target marijuana – as opposed to heroine, cocaine, alcohol, or even tobacco like before. What will be the future of marijuana? Only Congress will decide, but not without strong campaigns from both pro and anti-pot organizations. One thing is for certain: when the smoke clears, support for the legalization of marijuana grows stronger each day – something Bush and our super-conservative government can’t ignore for much longer.
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