Source: USA Today (US)
Author: USA Today Editorial
Published: November 29, 2004
Copyright: 2004 USA Today, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Angel Raich is ill — very ill. She's subject to severe, debilitating
pain from an inoperable brain tumor and more than a dozen other
ailments, including a chronic wasting condition. Without effective
medication, she can't walk, play with her children or sleep.
Angel Raich needs help. But because the California mother of two is
following her doctor's recommendation, using marijuana in a desperate
effort to find relief, the federal government considers her a criminal.
And in its zeal to make an example of Raich, the Justice Department told
the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday that the federal war on drugs trumps
any consideration of compassion for her or others like her.
But is that justice? Or injustice?
Either way, it's one more example of Washington's meddling in the
doctor-patient relationship and attempting to usurp an important power
historically handled by the states: regulation of medical practice. The
Justice Department is still trying to prevent physicians from
participating in Oregon's unique Death with Dignity Act, and Congress
persists in playing doctor by limiting the techniques for performing
otherwise legal abortions. Both issues are also in the courts.
Raich and her physician say they tried dozens of prescription medicines
without success before turning to marijuana in various forms. Diane
Monson, another California woman who suffers from chronic back trouble
and painful muscle spasms, is part of the same case. Two years ago,
federal agents seized from Monson's home the cannabis plants she was
growing for her own medicinal use.
Since 1996, California and 11 other states from Maine to Hawaii have
passed laws aimed at easing or eliminating penalties for the use of
marijuana for medicinal purposes. Opponents say there are licensed
drugs, including a "synthetic marijuana," that are just as effective.
But research has found that for some desperate patients like Raich and
Monson who have not found help elsewhere, marijuana can provide unique
relief from pain, nausea and other conditions.
And despite claims that the medical-marijuana movement is a "Trojan
horse" aimed at undercutting the war on drugs, there are few examples of
abuse or further erosion of drug laws in the states that have tried it.
At the Supreme Court, the marijuana case poses a potentially painful
choice for those justices who like to take a hard line on law-and-order
issues — and also see themselves as protecting the rights of the states
from an ever-encroaching federal government.
But that's nothing compared with the pain facing patients like Raich and
Monson if their doctors' options for treatment are unreasonably
constrained by the fear of drug abuse.
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