Increased drug raids, prosecution and publicity have medical marijuana
users and suppliers fighting for their right to possess the drug even
though it is in accordance with current state law. The number of arrests
for marijuana possession has increased by more than 20,000 arrests per year
since 1998, according to FBI crime reports.

In 1998, Washington voters passed Initiative 692 allowing patients with
certain terminal or debilitating illnesses to use medical marijuana.

Despite its legality for medical use under state legislation, federal law
still considers marijuana illegal under any circumstances, a fact the Drug
Enforcement Agency has used repeatedly to arrest users.

"The federal law is just plain wrong," said JoAnna Mckee, co-founder of the
Seattle-based Green Cross Patient Co-op, an organization that helps supply
seriously ill patients with medical marijuana.

Sixty-year-old Mckee, an active medical marijuana user and drug policy
reformist, had her home raided for marijuana cultivation in 1995. Mckee has
been confined to a wheelchair since 1992 and uses marijuana to help ease a
variety of debilitating problems.

"I have this giant red ball of pain when I wake up in the morning, and I
can't think of anything else," Mckee said. "I smoke some medicine, and the
pain doesn't stop, but I can set it aside."

Mckee said she uses marijuana several times a day. For her and many other
patients, it is the only th! ing that can help ease suffering, she said.

"I know a lot of people with cancer or muscular-skeletal problems who have
given up all or most of their narcotics for using a small amount of
marijuana," Mckee said.

Despite arguments for the value of medical marijuana, DEA agent Thomas
O'Brien said marijuana is not better than other pharmaceutics.

On April 14, 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that marijuana is not a
medical necessity to manufacture, distribute or possess.

"The DEA does not acknowledge the term 'medical marijuana,'" O'Brien said.
"We know there is no medicinal use for marijuana, as stated by the United
States Supreme Court."

O'Brien said the DEA will continue to enforce marijuana laws regardless of
state initiatives as long as marijuana remains a federally illegal drug.

He said the current push for medical marijuana is merely a ploy used by
groups seeking recreational legalization.

"I believe, as does the DEA, that this whole term 'medical m! arijuana'
that is used for compassion legislation is strictly! a move afoot by these
(recreational marijuana) legalizers," O'Brien said.

Bellingham Police Lt. Craige Ambrose said local police rarely get involved
in medical marijuana cases, preferring to target cases of marijuana
trafficking and distribution.

"If someone out there is selling large amounts of marijuana then we're
going to take notice, but if someone is using personal amounts of
prescribed medical marijuana." Ambrose said. "It's really not a big deal."

Dr. Mark Steinberg, a Bellingham naturopathic physician with 20 years of
experience, said although he cannot currently prescribe marijuana for
medical use, sometimes it would be nice to have the option.

"Medical marijuana is something I think should be used in the appropriate
situation," Steinberg said. "The side effects are less than that of a lot
of other drugs out there."

Tyree Callahan, head of the Bellingham Drug Policy Reform Group, said the
last thing seriously ill patients need is to be arrested and perse! cuted.

Callahan, whose father is serving a 27-and-a-half-year sentence for
marijuana-related federal charges, said the main reason some people are
afraid of federally legalizing medical marijuana is misinformation.

"People seem to think it's some kind of slippery slope," Callahan said. "If
you legalize marijuana then suddenly heroin is available right alongside
the Juicy Fruit at the store. What we really have to do is assure people
that legalization means regulation."

Callahan is a strong proponent for the state's rights to enforce its own
laws. He said he believes what people in each individual state decide
should supercede the federal law.

"I'm completely for state's rights, and I think the feds should get out of
it all together," Callahan said. "A Supreme Court justice once said that
states should be laboratories for democracy, and I completely agree with that."

Western junior Amber Howard organizes the Students for Sensible Drug
Policy, a club on campus that! works to promote drug policy reform and
education. Howard sa! id she also supports the state's right to enforce its
own laws.

"I think the government needs to come to grips with the fact that medical
marijuana can really benefit a lot of people," Howard said. "(The state
law) is helping people out, and there's nothing going wrong until the feds
come in and bust them."

Howard said people have misconceptions about marijuana because of
government propaganda and that the deciding factor in reforming marijuana
law is going to be education.

"I think there are a lot of people out there who just don't know about all
the good uses marijuana can have," Howard said. "Medical marijuana does
have proven results different from other drugs, and I think the government
should let people have the freedom to choose for themselves."

Source: Western Front Online (WA)
Author: Carl Weiseth
Published: February 04, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The Western Front
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