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Scholar Says Marijuana Ban Makes Little Sense

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The nation's drug laws are more the result of media hype and politicians
worried about re-election than credible science and good public policy, a
noted constitutional law scholar said.

Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University law school professor who has
represented numerous medical marijuana defendants and argued before the
U.S. Supreme Court, said the federal prohibition on marijuana makes very
little sense.

"Every few years we have a drug crisis of one substance or another and
Congress responds by criminalizing it or regulating its use." he said.
"Before 1937, it was not even illegal to grow or possess marijuana."

Uelmen, who is perhaps best known for being a member of the "Dream Team" of
lawyers that represented murder defendant O.J. Simpson, spoke to 200
students and marijuana activists at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law on

In 1970, when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act that classifies
marijuana alongside heroin, cocaine and other dangerous drugs, legislators
knew very little about its effects or medical benefits, Uelmen said.

The government set up a commission to study marijuana and the panel later
recommended that the herb be decriminalized, but President Nixon was
reluctant to embrace those findings, he said.

Nixon "promptly took the report, walked over to a trash can and publicly
trashed it," Uelmen said. "It was too controversial."

He said marijuana relieves side effects of prescription medication for
AIDS, cancer and other patients and stimulates their appetite so they can
keep their weight up and fight disease.

The federal government maintains that there is no medical benefit to
smoking marijuana. Drug-abuse prevention experts say the medical marijuana
movement is really a way to legalize drugs.

Nonetheless, 58 percent of California voters in 1996 supported a measure
that let patients grow and possess marijuana with a doctor's
recommendation. Eight other states have passed similar laws.

"Federal authorities suddenly realized they had a Whiskey Rebellion on
their hands," said Uelmen, referring to a 1794 uprising by farmers opposed
to a federal tax on whiskey.

Uelmen is awaiting a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over
the legality of marijuana cooperatives -- clubs that dispense marijuana to
sick and dying patients under state law.

He argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court several years ago. The
high court dismissed the so-called medical necessity defense but returned
the case to the 9th Circuit to consider other issues.

"We're quite optimistic actually," he said.

The 90-minute discussion was hosted by the school's Society for Law and
Medicine, a student group that examines medical issues relevant to the law.
Students said they were impressed with Uelmen.

"It really has given me some insight into the argument over the use of
medical marijuana," said Jennifer Rusnak, a first-year law student at
Thomas Jefferson. "I'm thinking I would like to do more research to get the
other side of the argument."

Pubdate: Fri, 21 Nov 2003
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact: letters@uniontrib.com
Website: The San Diego Union-Tribune - San Diego, California & National News