The leaders of the federal war on drugs are upset. At the very moment they
were launching a multimillion-dollar media campaign to educate parents and
kids about the risks of marijuana, the city fathers of Santa Cruz gathered
on the steps of City Hall to witness the distribution of marijuana to the
patients of a medical marijuana collective.

A representative of the Drug Enforcement Administration decried the
confusion this will create among our adolescent population: The Santa Cruz
festivities sent "the wrong message."

That's the same phrase government officials used in 1992 when they closed
down the federal government's Compassionate Investigative New Drug program
to distribute government-grown marijuana to the sick and dying. When the
program was deluged with applications from AIDS patients, federal
authorities decided that compassion was going too far and closed off new
applications because the program was "sending the wrong message."
Distribution was continued for previously enrolled patients, six of whom
still survive.

One of the real ironies of the gathering in Santa Cruz was the presence of
one of those six patients, holding the canister of marijuana cigarettes she
received from the U.S. government, sitting beside the hundreds of patients
whose marijuana had just been taken away by the U.S. government.

If kids are confused about marijuana, it's not because they can't
understand why sick people want to use a widely abused drug as medicine.
Even kids can understand the difference between recreational abuse of a
substance and therapeutic use under the care of a physician. We make that
distinction with cocaine and narcotics, both of which are widely abused but
can be prescribed by a physician.

The real confusion about marijuana for most kids is trying to figure out
why it's so different from alcohol. The government's "Open Letter to
Parents" published in American newspapers last week talked about the havoc
that marijuana can cause in high-pressure social situations, leading to
risky decision-making on such issues as sex, criminal activity or riding
with someone who is driving high.

Although marijuana certainly contributes to such risky behavior, it
accounts for a much smaller proportion of teenage sex, criminality and
driving high than does alcohol. Why is a multimillion-dollar government ad
campaign on drug education leaving out alcohol, the No. 1 killer of our
teens? It's rather confusing.

The best message to send to young people is the simple truth. And the
simple truth about medical marijuana was with those patients who limped
across the steps of Santa Cruz City Hall. The simple truth has been
discovered by thousands of AIDS patients, wasting away from loss of
appetite, and thousands of cancer patients, vomiting away their breakfast,
lunch and dinner.

Marijuana helps many of these people when other drugs don't. Their
physicians agree but are prohibited from writing a prescription for
marijuana by federal law. Many of these patients are dying and aren't
particularly concerned whether marijuana is carcinogenic or addictive. They
are more concerned with keeping their breakfast down and their weight up,
so they can benefit from the other medical treatments their doctors are
prescribing.

During the last year, 40 of the patients served by the Santa Cruz
collective died, four of them during the week before the DEA raid. The
collective functioned as a hospice, and Valerie Corral, the director of the
Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, was holding the hands of many of
these patients when they passed on.

As a result of the federal raid, many patients in Santa Cruz have been
condemned to a more painful, agonizing death. If the leaders of the U.S.
drug war think that compassion for the sick and dying is the "wrong
message," they are badly confused. If they think that the scarce resources
available to suppress heroin trafficking and methamphetamine production
should be used to send 30 agents armed with M-16s into the mountains of
Santa Cruz to harass the sick and dying, they are worse than confused.

They are demented.

LA Times
September 25, 2002
COMMENTARY

By GERALD F. UELMEN, Gerald F. Uelmen, a professor at Santa Clara
University School of Law, represents the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in a federal court challenge to the Sept. 5 DEA search.