Medical Marijuana

The Truth About Medical Marijuana

What the presidential candidates are too timid to tell you


Through all his years in politics, despite the endless obligation to shake hands, smile for the cameras and coax money out of contributors, John McCain has somehow avoided becoming a complete phony—something that John Edwards and Mitt Romney managed to achieve within a week of entering politics. Annoy McCain, and you won't have to wait long to find out.

Even a sickly, soft-spoken woman in a wheelchair gets no pass from him. The other day, at a meeting with voters in New Hampshire, Linda Macia mentioned her use of medical marijuana and politely asked his position on permitting it. Barely were the words out of her mouth before the Arizona senator spun on his heel, stalked away and heaped scorn on the idea.

"You may be one of the unique cases in America that only medical marijuana can relieve pain from," he said, in a skeptical tone. "Every medical expert I know of, including the AMA, says there are much more effective and much more, uh, better treatments for pain." He also ridiculed the notion that police would arrest patients for using marijuana as medicine.

It's refreshing that McCain is willing to state his position with such unvarnished candor. It would be even better if he knew what he was talking about.

Apparently he missed the news that federal agents recently raided the home of Leonard French, a paraplegic who had been authorized under New Mexico law to use cannabis for his condition. He now faces possible federal charges, not to mention that he was deprived of the medicine recommended by his doctor.

As for medical experts, McCain could easily find plenty who testify to the therapeutic value of pot. The American Academy of HIV Medicine says that "when appropriately prescribed and monitored, marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health and well-being of our patients."

The New England Journal of Medicine has called the federal ban on medical marijuana "misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane." A 1999 report by the federal Institute of Medicine concluded, "Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation."

It's true that actual arrests of patients are rare. But that's often little consolation. Consider the case of Angel Raich, a California cancer victim whose marijuana was confiscated in a federal drug raid.

When she challenged the federal law, an appeals court ruled against her. But the court also had to acknowledge, "Raich's physician presented uncontroverted evidence that Raich 'cannot be without cannabis as medicine' because she would quickly suffer 'precipitous medical deterioration' and 'could very well die.' " Said the court, "All medical evidence in the record suggests that, if Raich were to stop using marijuana, the acute chronic pain and wasting disorders would immediately resume."

But none of that mattered. In the end, the government and the courts gave Raich a choice: obey federal law, or risk jail by using the only treatment that helped her.

Bush administration officials often insist there are no definitive studies proving the curative powers of marijuana. What they omit is that the federal government has done everything in its power to prevent such research.

That effort has not entirely succeeded, though. Recently, the journal Neurology published the results of one clinical trial of HIV patients. It showed that pot "effectively relieved chronic neuropathic pain from HIV-associated sensory neuropathy," with no adverse side effects.

The mystery is not why anyone believes cannabis can be safe and effective therapy. The mystery is why so many politicians, particularly Republican presidential candidates—Ron Paul, a physician, being the heroic exception—are unwilling to consider the possibility, or to leave the matter up to the states. It's not even clear their hardline stance is smart politics in their own party.

Wherever you look, public opinion supports medical marijuana. In Texas, a 2004 Scripps-Howard poll found that 75 percent of the people favor allowing it—including 67 percent of Republicans. Such red states as Alaska, Colorado, Montana and Nevada are among the 12 that have legalized medical marijuana.

This is not a dispute between Republican voters and Democratic voters. It's a dispute between Republican politicians and everyone else.

What McCain ought to say is that he would rather ignore medical opinion, and inflict needless pain on people whose doctors say they could be helped by marijuana, than admit the federal ban is a mistake. Now that would be real candor.


NEXT: Sending the Wrong Message

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  1. The reason none of them (excepting Ron Paul) support medical marijuana, even if most republicans support it, is that the supporters are not the ones who vote in primaries. Same reason most of them won’t criticize Bush and the War in Iraq. Until the candidates see a change in the way they have to position themselves for the primaries, medical marijuana will be off the table. If these rent-a-face candidates thought they could win the primaries by advocating for medical marijuana, they’d be all over it and saying how they have always supported it.

  2. The only way to turn the tide is to make pot more commonplace.

    Get out there and get smoking, people…

  3. As long as politicians like John McCant think they’re better served spouting Drug War propaganda, I don’t see much reason for hope. Other than RON PAUL that is.

    the Hope for America

  4. “Steve Chapman raises the issue that makes presidential candidates squirm”

    errr. telling the truth?

  5. This is real Libertarian commentary that Reason needs to report on moer often. Real criticism of the Republican party, not the phony stuff that you get in the press. The problem with Republicans is that they have grown more Centrist in order to (as they feel) get elected. This has caused an assault on both personal freedoms (an over reaching Patriot Act) and economic freedom (Steel Tarrifs and the lack of the school voucher program that we were promised). The Republican party needs to get back on track with the more and more Libertarian Conservative movement out there and quit appealing to the so called “liberals” of the world. They wouldn’t even have to pull out of Iraq to do this, just stop the silly appeals and the useless “bi-partisanship” that we see today that has lead us down the road towards mild statism.

  6. We all understand why none of the GOP candidates but Ron Paul will support rolling back the WoD. The are trying to appeal to social conservatives. But what I don’t understand is the Democratic party’s complete avoidance of the issue altogether, especially when one of their most notable constituencies is the black community, which is disproportionatly affected by the WoD.

    Is it simply that such an tack would require a repudiation of all their other attempts to turn the US into a total nanny state? Because, really, the Democrats don’t typically have problems with advocating conflicting polticy prescriptions.

  7. This is not a dispute between Republican voters and Democratic voters. It’s a dispute between Republican politicians and everyone else.

    Let’s not be too partisan in choosing which statists to scorn. The Democrat politicians are just as bad when it comes to drugs. Remember when Clinton was too afraid to admit he inhaled? When he called Elders to the woodshed for daring to consider question drug war orthodoxy? Or more current, as Democrat run cities are zoning and regulatin otherwise legal pot clinics out of existance. While a few in the current crop of Democrat candidates may mumble that they support medical marijuana use, they still aren’t in support of general decriminalization.

  8. It goes without saying that McCain is full of it on the topic of marijuana, but it escapes me how Mr. Chapman decided to lead his piece with the notion that McCain has “somehow avoided becoming a complete phony.”

    I missed that. Sucking up to religious right is just one example of his hypocritical pandering, but hardly the only one. Or is Mr. Chapman’s contention that McCain is only a “partial” phony, and not a “complete” one?

  9. I wonder to whom McCain is really pendering. Most of the conservatives I know, even the Bible-thumpers, are fairly lenient where medical mari-hootchee is concerned…

  10. That should be “pandering.” Guess I need to preef-rood better…

  11. You can rant and rave against the evils of drug use and support the WoD, to appease social conservatives, but still support the use of medical marijuana. I can’t understand why all the Republican candidates don’t take this position.

    The sad thing is marjuana does not correlate with violent behavior the way alchol does.

    If we still want a war on drugs, let’s make war on Speed, Crack, and Cocaine, but legalize Marijuana, and heroin (just a painkiller, really, no different from morphine or oxycontin)

  12. I believe Huckabee has also criticized the failed war on drugs, although I’m not sure yet it he’s ready to take the steps necessary to end prohibition.

  13. …what I don’t understand is the Democratic party’s complete avoidance of the [medical marijuana / WoD] issue altogether, especially when one of their most notable constituencies is the black community, which is disproportionatly affected by the WoD.

    The Dems have the black community sewn up. Blacks typically vote about 5% or so Republican. The Libertarian party is too stupid to actually try to get the black vote, so the Dems know they don’t have to address the WoD and its devastating effect on black communities.

    If the Libs would field a few candidates who would go out and speak to black voters about ending the WoD, and reining in out-of-control prosecutors, I think the traction gained on these issues would be huge – the Dems would have to address them, for fear of losing a big enough chunk of their base.

  14. Don’t you know the state is never wrong? Besides drug companies wouldn’t be able to charge enough for an herb to bankrupt its customers requiring them to receive state insurance.

  15. One hundred years ago a physician would write a prescription for a patient to chew one foxglove leaf a day. Today we dose digoxin in precise doses of 0.125 mg a day titrating the dose to the desire effect. Dronabinol, the active agent in marijuana, does have medical indications and should be prescribed as any other drug. It is available in pharmaceutically pure exact doses. Telling a patient just to smoke a joint is sloppy medicine, irresponsible and borders on malpractice.

  16. Medical Cannabis is a life saver. For any info regarding the issue this is the Canadian Compassion Club pioneer that started the whole ball rolling.

  17. I support finding medical use of marijuanna but that is not what most supporters are looking for. They are looking for total legalization. While not the worst thing in the world I don’t think it is a good idea. For those that compare Pot to booze here is the reason I see why pot should be illegal. One doesn’t necessarily drink to get drunk. Many do but not all. One smokes pot specifically to get high and there are no exceptions.

  18. The King Of Queens Complete Series is available now, Doug and Carrie Heffernan (Kevin James and Leah Remini) share their home at 3121 Aberdeen Street in Rego Park, Queens, New York, with Carrie’s oddball dad, Arthur Spooner (Jerry Stiller). Doug, who makes a living as a delivery driver for the International Parcel Service (IPS), spends most of his time at his home with his wife Carrie. Carrie works as a secretary for a law firm in midtown Manhattan and later is a secretary for a real estate firm. This is complicated by Arthur, who can be quite a handful?so much so that they hired a dog walker, Holly (Nicole Sullivan), to walk him along with her canine charges in the local park.

    The King Of Queens Starring: Kevin James, Leah Remini, Jerry Stiller, Victor Williams, Patton Oswalt

    Director: David Litt, Michael J. Weithorn

  19. For once, McCain is right! It is so funny how this site claims to be a conservative site, what a joke!

    When someone can tell me why and how “smoking” SMOKE into the lungs can help with “health”, why the “medicinal” chemicals aren’t extracted and separated from the “high” I’ll start listening!

    This is all about BUMS getting high on the backs of tax payers and politically it is the modern equivalent to Europe doping the Chinese with opium! Dumb the people down, lazy them up, make them more fat and artificially happy for their NFL gladiator game’s while Rome burns!

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