13 June 2005

Rounding Up Marijuana Users

The recent Supreme Court decision on the use of medical marijuana was hailed as a great triumph in the war against drugs. Many conservatives have warned about the slippery slope of allowing marijuana in because we will end up with a Ralph Nader program that simply leaves drug use to the individual pothead. The Supreme Court sharply asserted the federal government’s power to prohibit illegal drugs, essentially overruling laws in 11 states that have allowed the medical use of marijuana.

I agree with the New York Times editorial (8 June) that one can only approach this ruling with mixed emotions but I do so for almost completely opposite reasons.

As a born Dutchman and conservative Christian I will be the last to advocate letting marijuana slip by. I have lived in a society where innocent children can walk down the street breathing in the fumes of marijuana smoke that wafts out of coffeeshops and downtown appartments. I have also seen up close what smoking marijuana does to the brain and the body—it’s not pretty. Marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should always remain a controlled substance.

The claims by the opponents of medical marijuana are, however, completely ludicrous. They assert that state laws that allow the use of marijuana as a medication is the same as turning a blind eye to illegal drug dealers and would inevitably lead to the corruption of children and other innocents in society. This is complete nonsense. Also, the idea that there is no scientific evidence for the benefit of marijuana as a medical drug is wrong. The most one can claim is that the jury is still out on the possibility of positive effects of marijuana. British scientists are researching the idea that certain active ingredients in hemp plants could be extracted and prescribed in pill form.

The problem in this debate is that emotions ran so high that reason went out the window. No government should allow marijuana to be scrapped from the list of controlled substances and no-one should smoke marijuana—especially not mixed with regular tobacco, as is the custom among many drug addicts. But under the supervision of a doctor, marijuana may well have positive effects in addition to the negative effects. I believe that there may well be a class of citizens who, as a result of some grave illness, may need the freedom to weigh these positive and negative effects and request marijuana.

Of course, the Supreme Court decision was not about the question whether medical marijuana should be allowed. Instead, it was a dry legal argument about whether Congress had constitutional authority to trump state governments. The case was even restricted to a few specific arguments brought forward by two California plaintiffs. Thus, the decision speaks more about the court’s view of states’ rights and federal authority than about its view of drug laws.

This explains the response of liberal media like the New York Times which hailed the decision as a triumph for strong federal control, but deplored it at the same time because they see the danger of conservative judges abusing that federal control to “turn back the clock” and strip Americans of hard-won civil rights. At the same time, conservative responses are equally deplorable because they unfairly use the decision to claim that it is an important victory in the war against drugs. It is not. It adds no protection against illegal drugs and only disadvantages a number of people who are so ill that cannabis represents the same kind of relief that morphine does for others. Christians should have compassion for them and at least have the decency to give them the benefit of the doubt. Not an inch needs to be sacrificed in the war on drugs to accomplish that.

Bad show, I say.

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