So far, legislators in 13 states have adopted laws permitting the use of medical marijuana.
New Jersey is on track to become the 14th after a state Senate committee voted 6-1 on Monday to move the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
This is a good bill, one with stringent safeguards to ensure that the use of marijuana is restricted to legitimate medical patients. Every applicant for a permit would have to prove a bona fide relationship with a physician who can provide documentation of the medical condition at issue.
But this is also a somewhat tangled issue involving the proper relationship between the federal government and the states. The Bush administration — somewhat hypocritically given its supposed adherence to the principles of federalism — has argued that regulation of marijuana as a medicine is properly a function of the federal government. The administration has even gone so far as to prosecute people in California who were distributing medical marijuana in accordance with state law.
That heavy-handed approach hasn’t been popular in a lot of states, and the issue has become politicized out of all proportion to its importance. The scientific questions in dispute will never be resolved to the satisfaction of either side, but the administration doesn’t help its case by using the Office of National Drug Control Policy as a sort of campaign office for the anti-legalization crusade. One handout, for example, questions whether marijuana is an effective medication, yet concedes that “smoking marijuana may allow patients to temporarily feel better.”
Isn’t that the purpose of an analgesic? If the feds know of any pain reliever that makes people feel better permanently, they should put this miracle drug on the market. In the interim, that argument supports the use of medicinal marijuana.
The other main objection from the Office of National Drug Control Policy is that smoking marijuana “increases the risk for respiratory diseases similar to those associated with nicotine cigarettes.” This argu ment would make sense if the federal government banned cigarettes. But it’s absurd to argue that a healthy citizen may fill his lungs freely with cigarette smoke until he develops cancer, yet be precluded from a few puffs that deliver a drug to soften the side effects of chemotherapy.
Of course, proponents of legalization also cherry-pick their excerpts from the medical literature. But the approach endorsed in the New Jersey bill offers a workable alternative. Any doctor can determine what is best for the patient. One such patient was Charles Kwiatkow ski, a 37-year-old Hazlet resident who suffers from multiple sclerosis and who testified that marijuana helps alleviate not just the pain but the muscle spasms caused by the disease. Kwiatkowski called marijuana “an illegal miracle” and said that it enables him to “walk better, see better, go fishing with my kids.”
By enacting this bill, New Jersey legislators will be offering a remedy to those patients. As to the remedy for the current administration’s effort to politicize a medical issue, that will come on Jan. 20.