New York Times Ad Urges Bush: Stop the War on Medical Marijuana
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In an unprecedented full-page ad in the March 6 New York Times, a national coalition of doctors, nurses, medical organizations, celebrities, and more than 300 state legislators asked President Bush to allow patients with serious illnesses to apply for government permission to use marijuana to relieve their symptoms.
Signatories include elected officials from 42 states and the District of Columbia, esteemed television journalists Walter Cronkite and Hugh Downs, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, best- selling health author Dr. Andrew Weil, longtime Republican activist Lyn Nofziger (who was aide to Presidents Reagan and Nixon), the American Public Health Association, the National Association of People With AIDS, and the Nurses Associations of California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The letter is also signed by such celebrities as Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher, actress Susan Sarandon, and comedian Richard Pryor, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. The letter, ad, and complete list of signatories (including a state-by-state list of elected officials) are available at http://www.CompassionateAccess.org .
The ad features an open letter to President Bush. "Countless seriously ill people are already using marijuana because they and their doctors believe that it is the best medicine for them," the letter states. "These patients should not be treated like criminals." Under current federal law, people who possess even small amounts of marijuana can be sentenced to a year in federal prison, with no exception for medical use.
In signing the letter, Hugh Downs, longtime host of the ABC News program 20/20, noted that he has long questioned laws barring medical use of marijuana. As far back as 1994, he explained in a radio commentary that marijuana "has established therapeutic use in a variety of medical conditions. But, since it is caught up in the hysteria of the drug war, doctors are prohibited from conducting research on marijuana and patients are deprived of its benefits."
"Seriously ill patients should not be threatened by arrest and jail due to their use of a treatment that can relieve their symptoms and suffering," commented American Public Health Association Executive Director Mohammad N. Akhter, M.D., M.P.H. Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, M.D., agreed, saying, "Seriously ill people should have the benefit of all medications recommended by their physicians, including legal access to medical marijuana. Have we lost all of our compassion, even for the sick and dying?"
Conservative activist Lyn Nofziger added bluntly, "The only people who oppose the use of marijuana for medical purposes are those who have never needed it, or have no member of their family who has needed it."
The federal government still supplies seven patients with government-grown marijuana under the so-called "Compassionate Investigational New Drug" (IND) program begun in 1978, but the program was closed to new patients in 1991. In a 1999 report commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggested that the federal government give seriously ill people legal access to marijuana on a case-by-case basis, much like the IND program. The IOM report noted that such an approach would give relief to suffering patients while also generating useful data.
The government has not acted on the IOM recommendation and, instead, the Bush administration has recently stepped up its enforcement against medical marijuana distribution centers. In a series of raids in California, armed DEA agents have shut down medical marijuana providers who worked closely with local governments and law- enforcement agencies, seizing patient records and forcing thousands of sick people to turn to unreliable and potentially dangerous street sources for their medicine.
"During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush said that states should be able to address the medical marijuana issue `as they so choose,' but his administration has moved in precisely the opposite direction," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which is providing staff time and financial support to the coalition. "Why is our government waging a war on patients when the president keeps saying he needs more resources to fight terrorism? Mr. Bush has warned that when people buy drugs, some of the money goes to criminals and terrorists -- yet his administration's own actions have driven thousands of patients away from locally authorized medical marijuana providers and into the arms of street drug dealers."
The Marijuana Policy Project works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use.