A terminally ill woman smokes marijuana to ease intense nausea caused by chemotherapy. An elderly man with glaucoma discovers that smoking marijuana lessens the debilitating pain in his eyes. A family doctor determines, after careful consideration of the individual health risks and benefits, that an AIDS patient can safely stimulate his waning appetite by smoking marijuana.
Who would stand in the way of these private and professional efforts to heal, relieve and restore hope?
Politicians. Hacks on the left and right, Democrat and Republican. Control freaks inside the Beltway and down in Olympia who favor the deadly grip of government over compassion. Moralists who sacrifice the sick and infirm in the name of upholding public safety, defending the regulatory process, or protecting the collective good.
As citizens in Washington state and Washington, D.C., prepare to vote on medical marijuana initiatives this fall, they should ready themselves for six weeks of Drug War wile and dissimulation.
Let's start with Republicans. It was Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) who once sponsored a bill in Congress to allow therapeutic use of marijuana. In 1982, Gingrich wrote an impassioned letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association attacking the "outdated federal prohibition" of medical marijuana. He decried the plight of "thousands of glaucoma and cancer patients" held hostage by "bureaucratic interference."
Sixteen years later, Gingrich is Speaker of a House that just declared that marijuana "contains no plausible medicinal benefits." No, the plant wasn't corrupted. Gingrich was.
Last week, the House Republican Conference passed a joint resolution condemning state-level efforts to legalize medical marijuana. GOP leaders, swept into the majority in 1994 to get government out of our lives, sponsored the election-year declaration against states' rights and self-determination. Former champions of streamlining the federal bureaucracy voiced full-throated support of the "existing Federal legal process for determining the safety and efficacy of drugs . . . for medicinal use."
The message from Republican revolutionaries, who only two years ago planned to eliminate the Food and Drug Administration, is no longer Bust the FDA - but Trust the FDA. GOP reformers who once assailed the agency's glacial pace and politicized approval procedures now defer to the FDA's "expert judgment" over the judgment of individual patients and doctors. Take Steve Forbes, the magazine publisher and 1996 GOP presidential candidate. Not long ago, he lambasted the FDA's sluggish pace in approving new drugs. Now, he slams medical marijuana proponents as stealthy and "insidious" radicals thwarting the FDA's beneficent administrators.
Forbes and other free-market posers argue that patients should shut up and be satisfied with FDA-approved Marinol, a synthetic form of marijuana's therapeutic chemicals. But what happened to consumer choice? What happened to breaking the government's monopoly on medicine? What happened to reducing the sphere of the FDA's paternalistic influence and letting individuals make risk-benefit calculations for themselves?
Democrats are just as two-faced when it comes to putting patients first. Pro-choice liberals have stretched the constitutional right of privacy to cover only the most politically correct of medical procedures. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, for example, is one of the state's staunchest defenders of a woman's right to choose . . . abortion. She speaks frequently about protecting "personal freedoms" and privacy on the Senate floor. Yet, she opposes Initiative 692, the narrowly crafted Nov. 3 ballot measure to allow the private, personal use of physician-prescribed marijuana by patients with terminal diseases or debilitating illness.
Sen. Murray marches in lock-step with the Clinton White House. Though the administration made heroic efforts to repeal the so-called gag rule prohibiting federally funded clinics from advising patients about the option of abortion, it imposed a gag rule of its own by urging local law enforcement to arrest and prosecute doctors recommending medicinal use of marijuana in California and Arizona.
Like House Republicans, the Clinton drug policy office hides behind the FDA to oppose an upcoming medical marijuana initiative in the District of Columbia. "Science, not politics, should determine what is safe and effective medicine," says a spokesman. Yet, for more than two decades, politics has impeded scientific research on marijuana's health benefits. As drug policy researchers Lynn Zimmer and John Morgan note in their book, "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts": "Findings from animal and cellular studies are used and cited as evidence of marijuana's biological harms, even when researchers have consistently found no such harm in humans. Studies showing no effect - or a positive effect related to marijuana - are ignored completely."
Democratic Lt. Governor Brad Owen, an outspoken foe of medical marijuana, says I-692's "loose language" betrays a broader pro-drug agenda. But the tightly worded measure states clearly that the possession, sale, manufacture or use of marijuana for non-medical purposes would remain prohibited; it makes the public use or display of physician-supervised medical marijuana a misdemeanor, and it narrowly spells out the qualifying terminal or debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and glaucoma.
Owen casually dismisses real stories of those who have benefited from medical marijuana as "anecdotal evidence." On Nov. 3, the flesh-and-blood family, friends and co-workers of those "anecdotes" can wrest control from calculating bureaucrats like Owen and put the power to heal - with dignity, privacy, and freedom from fear - in the frail fingers of their loved ones.
The I-692 web site address is: http://www.members.aol/sativaflo/index.html
Michelle Malkin's column appears Tuesday on editorial pages of The Times.