The News Event That No One Noticed

I was surfing the web today and I came across this article about a minor news event that occurred on December 19th, but which I don't believe was very widely reported. I guess people were too preoccupied with the new Titanic movie and the holidays and stuff, and then of course President Bill got caught with his pants down again and that's been the only thing the news has been concerned with ever since. Even so, this could end up being the news story of the year.

It seems the DEA has quietly acknowledged that marijuana is not as dangerous a drug as heroin and PCP and the others in the Schedule I category, which are the official targets of the War on Drugs. They have formally asked the department of Health and Human Services to review the available scientific and medical data, and decide if marijuana should be removed from the list of Schedule I drugs.

This could be an extremely significant event. If HHS decides marijuana lacks the danger potential necessary to qualify for Schedule I status, then the entire premise upon which marijuana prohibition is based will be called into question. It would be like pulling the rug right out from under the war on marijuana smokers.

After reading this, I got to thinking about what this could mean to politics as usual in America. I also got to thinking about the Pro-Life movement and how it's similar in some ways to the Marijuana Legalization movement. Both movements challenge the morality and legality of decades old legal precedent; both have the difficult but very specific goal of changing well established laws of the land. Both issues can cross traditional party lines and inspire intense single-issue loyalty. And at the heart of both debates is the question of who has the ultimate control over a person's own body.

But while they are similar in some ways, the two movements are also quite different. Since their cause is illegal, the marijuana smokers were forced underground when law enforcement efforts were first stepped up by President Nixon (in spite of the findings of his own blue-chip panel, which recommended decriminalization). But even though it's a taboo subject in every arm of our media, marijuana culture has grown and flourished and is starting now to burst out in every direction.

Consider the recent film "Half-Baked". It was an unabashed celebration of the joys of smoking pot, yet the commercials only hinted at the subject matter. Even so, this refusal to admit what's really going on hasn't changed the nature of what's really going on. In fact, more and more people are smoking marijuana every year. That's why annual arrests always go up, because the number of people to arrest is constantly increasing. And gradually, this minority is starting to speak up for themselves, admitting that they smoke pot and challenging the stupidity and immorality of punishing people for growing and making use of a plant.

The anti-abortion movement, of course, has taken a much more visible approach. Since support for their position doesn't brand them as criminals, they're able to be completely outspoken in their political convictions. By teaming up with churches and sponsoring protests at clinics, they gained a lot of media visibility. Unfortunately, when their efforts failed to achieve their desired result, some of their extremists decided to turn to terrorism. Personally, I think this rather seriously hurts their credibility. At least the pot smokers haven't resorted to killing innocent people in order to try to bring about the changes they seek. (Of course, there are some drug dealers who'll kill in order to protect their own personal financial concerns, but that isn't the same thing... in fact, it's an argument for the end of prohibition, just as it was when gangland violence erupted during alcohol prohibition.)

The thing that bugs me about this comparison is the way marijuana has ended up on the losing side of a double standard (again). The Supreme Court has ruled that a woman has the ultimate authority over her body, even to the extent of being legally able to terminate the life of a child within her; and yet, that same woman does not apparently have enough authority over her own body to permit her to use marijuana if she so chooses.

But that's beside the point. The thing I really find interesting is the thought of where this DEA/HHS story might go. Consider: Every major study of the marijuana issue has recommended that it be decriminalized. Up until now, all of these studies have been ignored by our law-makers. Now, however, the DEA has agreed to listen to and abide by the findings of a new study that's really just a study of all the old studies. What other conclusion can the HHS department possibly come to? Anyone who's done a truly objective study of the issue will agree that marijuana simply doesn't have the danger factor of the other drugs in the Schedule I category.

Unless someone at the HHS accepts a really big bribe, there's only one conclusion they can come to. And when the announcement is made, it could be like the day Roe Vs. Wade decision was announced. No one will notice it on the first day, but pretty soon it will sweep out all of the existing marijuana policies and create the sudden need for a regulatory agency instead of an engine of war. Like Roe Vs. Wade, the re-scheduling of marijuana will change the entire political landscape of the war on drugs overnight.

Of course, our elected officials won't like it.

I must say, I'm really disappointed in our President. Remember those debates between him and Bush and Perot? (And say, anybody remember Perot?) During those debates, our boy Bill defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I think a lot of people voted for Clinton in that election because they thought he'd go soft on marijuana. After all, he'd actually admitted to having tried it! (And in spite of this, he still managed to get himself elected to the office of President of the United States--so much for that myth about marijuana destroys a person's motivation...) I also think a lot of people were shocked when Bill got into office and put into place an insane (by his own definition) drug policy, arresting more marijuana smokers than the Republications before him had been doing, 642,000 in 1996 alone. So far, almost 2.1 million Americans have been arrested under the administration of a man who has himself admitted to engaging in the very same crime. Talk about your double standards!

But what really gets me is that in the same election in which he was granted his second term, two states voted (by wider margin than they voted for him) to allow for the legitimate medical use of marijuana. In spite of this, Bill remains firmly opposed even to this obviously compassion-driven policy, denying access to marijuana even by seriously ill cancer and AIDS patients.

How can anyone justify denying marijuana to someone who's dying? When you are on your deathbed, you should be allowed to ingest anything you want that will help ease your pain. If one of my desires during my dying days is to ease my pain and soothe my mind with marijuana, how DARE the government tell me I'm not allowed to?

"Well," the logic goes, "what if you didn't die? If you recovered, you'd be a drug addict and we couldn't allow that."

Dammit, if I'm on my deathbed, I should be allowed to decide for myself if I want to take that risk. As far as I'm concerned, a doctor should have total authority to offer any medical treatment to a patient that the doctor in question deems worthwhile. Refusing to allow access to marijuana by someone who's probably going to die is cold-hearted, inhuman, and cruel. Attempting to justify this barbaric policy in order to avoid "sending the wrong message to kids" shows an appalling lack of priorities.

But this is exactly what our President is doing. His administration has refused to accept the will of the voters in California and Arizona and opposes the legitimate use of marijuana, even when under a doctor's supervision. So I can't imagine he's very happy about the fact that marijuana prohibition could soon be struck down, on legal grounds, at the federal level.

And yet, it could be just what Clinton needs right now: something to get the media attention off of his romantic antics. I just hope that when the announcement is made, Clinton has the good sense to accept the findings of the studies instead of ignoring them as all our presidents before him have done.


Copyright © 1998 by Andrew Looney.

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