David Crisp: On medical pot, legislative ‘fix’ was a disaster

I’ve probably told this story too many times, but I can’t discuss medical marijuana without bringing it up: On a vacation in Minnesota, many years ago, long before the statute of limitations ran out, I suffered a severe roadside attack of diarrhea. I need not, and probably should not, describe how awful that was.


David Crisp

A few puffs on a marijuana cigarette later, and I not only felt better—which was all I hoped for—but the diarrhea totally disappeared. Side effects? None, other than a more cheerful disposition for an hour or two.

Ever since then, when people talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, I nod my head. My sole experience doesn’t exactly add up to scientific proof, but just try to prove it didn’t help.

So I was all for legalizing medical marijuana in Montana, despite the hideous chaos that followed. As it turned out, there is no pandemonium so chaotic that the government can’t make it worse. And that’s just what the Montana Legislature did.

As I reported on Tuesday, the state’s battered medical marijuana program could be all but wiped out by a Montana Supreme Court decision that upheld most of the Legislature’s 2011 law severely restricting the rights of doctors to recommend and patients to use marijuana.

As so often happens, it was the political party that complains most about putting the government between you and your doctor that acted most vigorously to put the government between you, your doctor and a legal dose of marijuana. The 2011 bill passed the Senate 35-15, with 14 of the 15 no votes coming from Democrats. The House approved it 78-17, with Democrats casting 11 of the no votes.

Similar government meddling is visible in Texas, which passed a law that shut down more than three-fourths of the state’s abortion clinics. The U.S. Supreme Court last week heard arguments in the case, which forced the state’s lawyers to argue that putting the government between doctors and their patients is just fine when it comes to abortion.

But at least abortion is an issue that poses profound ethical questions. Even if abortion opponents are forced to pretend in court that the law is all about women’s health, we know what it’s really about. Their arguments may be insincere, but their objections to abortion are rooted in deep moral beliefs.

No such deep beliefs apply to marijuana, which the federal government never even got around to banning until 1937. Since then, marijuana has been criticized, demonized, idealized and propagandized, drawing a wildly disproportionate amount of attention for one of nature’s more benign inventions.

The Montana setback cannot be idly blamed on conservatives. The Legislature was, in fairness, reacting to genuine abuses. Instead, blame that shortsighted law on bipartisan blindness that stretches back decades all across the fruited plain.

Blame Republicans, to be sure, for letting prejudice against everything new block their oft-stated commitment to liberty and the sovereignty of the individual.

But blame liberals, too, for timidity in the face of simple unfairness. Blame presidents Clinton and Obama, both of whom smoked enough to know better, for leaving office without having done nearly enough to fix the injustice that a 17-year-old with a joint in his pocket is likely to face more jail time than a Wall Street robber baron with his hands in your pocket.

Given a chance, voters in recent years have favored relaxing laws against marijuana. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia now allow medical marijuana, and four states allow recreational use of marijuana.

In the privacy of the voting booth, marijuana fares much better than it does on the floor of the typical state legislature. In many states, penalties for marijuana possession cause far more harm than the drug itself does.

Even in Montana, medical marijuana users talk of needless arrests for possessing paraphernalia, loss of child custody over marijuana use and confiscation of marijuana and cash during traffic stops. Such claims are difficult to pin down, but they are a natural consequence of shortsighted and outdated approaches to regulating marijuana use.

Whatever the final scientific verdict on medical marijuana turns out to be, there is no doubt that many of the people who use it believe it helps them. And quite a few doctors agree. That ought to be good enough.

If you disagree, then I will be happy to discuss it with you further. We can meet on a Minnesota roadside, next to a gas station, on the most miserable day of your life.

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