Date: Wed, 30 Jan 2008 13:16:13 -0800
Subject: OPN: The Times May Be Changing on the Marijuana Issue
The Times May Be Changing on the Marijuana Issue
January 28, 2008
AUSTIN — A few years ago, politicians who dared to suggest anything other than jail time for marijuana users were considered pro-drug fringe candidates.
Not anymore. Now all the major Democratic presidential candidates are offering more lenient stands on medical marijuana, and White House hopeful Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, has made ending the federal drug war a centerpiece of his campaign.
"There has definitely been a change in the political climate for liberalization," said Tim Lynch, a criminal justice expert at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "I think the people are ahead of the politicians, especially of the Washington, D.C., politicians, on this issue."
Polls have consistently shown that Americans support marijuana for medicinal purposes: a whopping 80 percent said so in a 2002 Time/CNN survey. In the same poll, about a third approved total legalization, but 72 percent said recreational users should be fined, not incarcerated.
Even in Texas, where medical marijuana legislation has never gotten off the ground, the Legislature recently passed a law that allows prosecutors to bypass the jail booking process for certain marijuana offenses. It doesn’t change the penalty, but the legislation marks Texas’ first lenient approach to marijuana in years.
Experts say the more tolerant approach has its origins in California, where in 1996 voters made it legal for people to smoke marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. More than a decade later, 12 states permit some use of medical marijuana, and several others, including Michigan, Arizona, New York and Illinois, are likely to consider initiatives in 2008, said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. A ballot initiative in Massachusetts aims to go further by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it similar to a traffic ticket.
"I think in 10 years, people will look back at the laws that prevented people from using marijuana as a medicine and say, ‘What the hell were they thinking?’" Mirken said.
Of course, not everybody is leaping on the bandwagon. All of the top Republican presidential candidates have expressed opposition to the use of medical marijuana, and the White House drug czar continues to sound the alarm about making it legal under any circumstance, much as it was before California voters approved the landmark referendum.
Research has shown that teen drug use has declined steeply nationwide. A study released in December showed that illicit teen drug use has dropped sharply from levels a decade earlier, with marijuana use in particular showing steep declines.
In testimony before Congress last summer, Dr. David Murray, chief scientist in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, hailed the positive trends among teens but said medical marijuana had sparked violence and robberies in California. He also warned about the negative health effects from inhaling smoked marijuana.
Murray described marijuana as "a substance without medical utility" and expressed concern about the wave of state referenda allowing its use.
"The medical marijuana movement is at best a mistake, at worst, a deception," Murray said. "The people pushing for this are cynically manipulating tragic tales of suffering."
Don’t tell that to Tim Timmons. The Garland resident, who has multiple sclerosis, says politicians are the ones manipulating the marijuana issue to appear tough on crime.
Though he takes $3,000 worth of prescription drugs a month — between 18 and 23 pills a day — he says marijuana is the only thing that calms the debilitating spasms in his legs and lets him sleep at night.
Timmons has sent scores of letters to state lawmakers, inviting them to see for themselves how marijuana visibly calms his spasms.
Otherwise, he has repeatedly issued this public challenge to state lawmakers who oppose medical marijuana: take him to jail themselves if they think what he’s doing is wrong.
"Come arrest me. I’m here waiting for you," Timmons said in the presence of a Star-Telegram videographer, after smoking marijuana from a pipe at his home. "You can put the handcuffs on me."
State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, has twice failed to pass a bill designed to help seriously ill people who use marijuana for things such as pain and nausea relief.
Last year, the politics of the issue were so toxic in the Legislature that Naishtat didn’t even get a public hearing on his bill.
The lawmaker stresses that his bill would "not legalize anything" Instead, it would give an affirmative defense in court for people who use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.
That way, courts could release those who have a medical reason to smoke it.
"It gives these individuals, if they happen to get arrested, a chance to go before a jury and say, ‘I’m not a criminal. I’m sick. My doctor recommended it. It helps me live. Please let me go home.’ And juries could say, ‘Go home.’"
Brandy Zink, LMT
Ohio Patient Action Network
President Ohio Patient Network
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