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Only Congress can change marijuana law



Published: Sat, May 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The U.S. Supreme Court decision to deny the legality of marijuana's medical use, despite state initiatives to the contrary, was the only action the court could take given federal law. Citizens who believe that marijuana is an appropriate drug for pain or for the treatment of other diseases' symptoms have one recourse: Congress.

In writing the opinion for the 8-0 decision, Justice Clarence Thomas stated that because the Controlled Substance Act "classifies marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance, it provides only one express exception to the prohibitions on manufacturing and distributing the drug: Government-approved research projects."

Insufficient evidence: And no government-approved research project has found that marijuana is a medical necessity -- notwithstanding anecdotal evidence of its efficacy. Unless Congress amends the Act, those who would distribute marijuana for medical purposes are in violation of federal law.

We deeply sympathize with those who suffer from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other diseases who believe they have found relief from marijuana that they have not obtained from any other drug. We also understand that in the minds of many, marijuana should not be classified as a schedule I controlled substance. In fact, voters in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have all approved ballot initiatives allowing the use of medical marijuana.

But so long as federal law specifically states marijuana has & quot;no currently accepted medical use, & quot; the justices had no choice but to uphold the law.

Opponents of the law argue that marijuana is not the "gateway" drug to other more dangerous drugs and as such should not be so strenuously regulated. We disagree.

War on drugs: In other countries, in years past, heroin was an approved treatment for pain, but its addictive properties and consequent harm to society outweighed its value as medicine. Given the street demand in the United States for legal and illegal drugs -- from Oxycontin to cocaine -- and the billions being spent for drug treatment and interdiction, giving credibility to marijuana without a strong scientific basis only complicates the drug-use picture.

Without definitive medical research to show that the drug works or works better than conventional legal alternatives, marijuana cannot be given as if it were a prescribable medicine. Congress has decided and the court upheld that there can be no legal distribution of a illegal substance.

However, there is no reason that the government should not approve and fund research -- as it would any promising pharmaceutical -- to determine once and for all if marijuana's value as medicine justifies a change in the law.




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