Last week found Vice President Albert Gore trying to walk a fine line between Drug War dogma and common sense on the increasingly incendiary issue of medical marijuana. At a televised forum in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Gore put himself on equal footing with Democratic rival Bill Bradley by saying that he is open to the idea of allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes. Emphasizing that he did not favor wholesale legalization of the drug, Gore said that if research proved the effectiveness of the drug, "doctors ought to have that option."
The Vice President was quick to backtrack after the forum, however, and come back in line with the Clinton-Gore administration's longstanding policy of opposing all state initiatives allowing patients access to pot. Gore claimed that the initiatives went too far and amounted to de facto legalization, even though no state initiative has gone farther than what he endorsed himself - allowing patients to use marijuana with the recommendation of a physician. Furthermore, Gore's assertion that research has not yet bared out the medical value of marijuana flies in the face of a March report by the Institute of Medicine that vindicated marijuana and called for legal patient access to the drug until a safer, non-smoked alternative can be developed.
Though the Drug War still rages on, pressure at the state level may finally push the issue of medical marijuana onto the national political stage. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have all passed initiatives protecting patients from prosecution if they obtain a doctor's recommendation. Likely Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush has had little to say on the issue, but even he said in October that despite personal opposition to the medical use of marijuana he feels the decision should be made at the state level.
While politicians are still unable to unabashedly support the use of an effective drug because of the stigma attached to it, it is refreshing to see that perhaps the hard work of activists at the state level has helped facilitate a more reasonable and open debate at the national level.