The Stupidity of Federal Drug Policy

Let's hear it for Ed Rosenthal!

He's a marijuana grower -- but before you can say "drug dealer," let me say that he grows his marijuana to be sold for medical purposes, supplying patients under doctor supervision and who need the medicine to treat severe and chronic pain, cancer-induced nausea, and other ailments.

Public Supports Legalization

A poll by Zogby International found that 41 percent of Americans agree on reforming pot laws. This represents a striking increase from previous nationwide polls on making marijuana legal.

The poll interviewed 1,204 adults chosen at random nationwide. Each were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement: "Some people say the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: it should regulate marijuana, control it, tax it, and only make it illegal for children." The margin of error is +/- 2.9 percent.

"No other criminal law on the books in this country is enforced so vigorously, yet backed by such a small majority of Americans," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "When two of every five citizens say it's time to make marijuana legal, the government's response should be to reduce penalties and re-evaluate the law, yet the federal government is doing just the opposite: blocking the availability of marijuana for medical purposes, prohibiting the production of hemp for industrial purposes, and spending billions of dollars per year on the war on marijuana."

Nearly two years ago USA Today ran a front page story with the findings of a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll which found that support for legalizing marijuana was at its highest in 30 years, with 34 percent in favor, up from 15 percent in 1972. The jump over two years to 41 percent is similar to other rapid shifts in public opinion around marijuana decriminalization in Canada, Britain and elsewhere.

Providing medical marijuana for these patients, many of whom are terminally ill and have no other medicine to ease their agonies, is not only humane and medically sound, but it's also perfectly legal -- in 1996, the people of California voted to OK this use of the cannabis plant.

In 2001, however, George W chose John "Mad Dog" Ashcroft to be the U.S. attorney general, and this super-pious, right-wing extremist has zero respect for the will of the people. Asserting his personal bias over states' rights and democratic choice, the authoritarian Ashcroft is on a prosecutorial crusade against California and the eight other states that have passed medical marijuana laws.

Saying that his views and the federal law pre-empt state law, Ashcroft's agents have been going after people like Rosenthal with a vengeance. In a perverse, Orwellian twist of justice, the Feds convicted Ed by refusing to allow him to tell jurors that he was operating within state law. Jurors later angrily said they would've acquitted him had they known this.

Now the good news: Instead of 100 years in prison and a $4.5 million fine, as the absurd federal law allows, the judge only assessed a thousand dollar fine and one day in prison for Ed. Rosenthal will now appeal the silly conviction itself, and his case has become a rallying point for all of us who think this federal law is an anti-American assault on our basic liberties. Yet Ashcroft is as arrogant and autocratic as ever -- as one of his agents said of Ed and us supporters of common sense: "We are not listening to them."

And that's exactly what's wrong with national drug policy.

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