Don't Repeal Medical Marijuana
Watching the hearings on HB 161 to repeal the Medical Marijuana law
Medical Marijuana, TEA Parties, and ALEC
I thought I'd seen and heard it all from the "conservative," TEA, "right to lifers" of Montana, but the testimony supporting HB 161 to repeal Montana's medical marijuana law defies belief.
We used to laugh at the Tennessee "monkey trial" and Christian fundamentalists who claim that the Rapture is at hand, so we don't need to worry about conserving natural resources, or providing Medicare or Social Security. We'll all be dead by then, anyway - or at least everyone but the "saved" - a few 10's of thousands of "faithful Christians."
I was happy to see many old friends testifying in opposition to HB 161. Perhaps the most notable was Linda Eichwald, wife of Paul, a Great Falls High School graduate in my class of 1965. Eichwald is the son of Ernst Eichwald, the founder of the McLaughlin Research Institute (MRI). Paul also runs the Missoula office of D.A. Davidson, and has long been a major fund-raiser for MRI. They are one of the leading families, both in Missoula and Great Falls, but did that matter to the idiots conducting this hearing?
Because there were 4 times more opponents than proponents for HB 161, the last 60 or 70 of them were restricted to stating their names, and the fact that they were in opposition to the bill. We heard a half-hour of lies and horror stories having nothing to do with medical marijuana from the proponents, but when the opponents tried to answer these myths and fabrications, they were silenced.
Linda Eichwald was having none of it. She concluded her testimony with a simple request that since this was such an important bill, and there was so much opposition to it, it was appropriate for the Committee to extend the comment time for as long as needed. Even this polite request was met with disdain and contempt by the Committee chair. He should be removed from his post, and maybe spend a couple of days in jail until his attitude improves.
From listening to the testimony of the proponents, one would think that they are most opposed to anyone running a business or making a profit. I suspect that many of these people were once opponents of "legalized gambling" - specifically the machine gambling which really does prey on the weak and stupid, and relies on addiction to enrich the few people who actually own the machines, and the Tavern Association members who share in the profits. Ben Forsyth, whom I once worked with on this issue (abolishing video gambling machines) is certainly among their number, and he was in Helena on Wednesday, testifying in favor of HB 161.
A century ago, these were the alcohol Prohibitionists, whom I know from personal experience as well, because my Stephens grandparents were Prohibitionists, and my grandmother supported alcohol prohibition to her dying day. She never seemed to understand that prohibition is institutionalized "enabling", or that both of her sons drank themselves to death as a direct reproach to her and her punishing, moralistic attitudes.
Speaking abstractly, the Medical Marijuana law should be repealed, along with prohibition and the status of marijuana as a "Class 1 Narcotic." Just decriminalize it, along with most other private, consensual behavior. Do we have a medical alcohol law? Or a medical opium law? Yes, we regulate and (in the case of alcohol) tax these substances, but that doesn't do much to reduce use or the problems of addiction. It only serves to keep the prisons and hospitals full, but there is no more money to support such wastes of taxpayer dollars.
There is no need for a "medical marijuana law" - not because marijuana isn't a medicine, but because it is an HERBAL medicine, taken directly from a plant, and used from time immemorial - freely, and without any need for "permission," licensing, or regulation.
Should we regulate dandelions? Valerian roots? St. John's Wort? Echinacea? Of course not, although the pharmaceutical monopolies and other organized interests would like to outlaw or "patent" them, just as they have outlawed marijuana in the United States for most of the past century. It's just amazing how these good, God-fearing Christians always play right into the hands of the corporate criminals, as well as the illegal drug cartels which thrive under a regimen of prohibition.
If you need to hear and believe just one simple slogan, try this one.
WHEN DRUGS ARE OUTLAWED, ONLY OUTLAWS WILL HAVE DRUGS.
Yes, it is a tautology, but a useful, meaningful one. Every NRA member believes and supports the same logic with respect to "gun rights." So, let's start talking about "drug rights," or more to the point, THE RIGHT TO SELF-MEDICATE. What could be more obvious and true? If you listened to the testimony of the opponents of HB 161, you heard that many times. We are AMERICANS. We don't want a "government takeover" of medicine. We want to be free to try out and practice the medicine which works for us.
It was obvious from the spectrum of people opposing this bill that the bigots and fanatics were all on the side of the proponents. There were many veterans, disabled people, law enforcement people, lawyers, business people, and others who see their very survival as depending on legalized access to medical marijuana. All of the medical science and law enforcement practice is on their side. We lock up 5-15 times as many people, per capita, as any other "free country" in the world, and nearly all of the surplus is due to our draconian drug laws, and the ALEC-written "3 strikes and you're out" and Mandatory Minimum Sentences - designed exclusively to profit the private prison industry as well as the pharmaceutical monopolies and private "health insurance" rackets.
ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) claims 1/3 of all state legislators nationwide as dues-paying members, and it is almost solely responsible for the growth of the prison industry and an absolute rejection of any sort of "public option" or other "government-run health care." One would think, if there were any principles behind their thinking at all, that they would be entirely in favor of decriminalizing drugs, and ending the monopoly power of the pharmaceutical monopolies and other medical providers. This would be the real libertarian, "free market", "government is the problem" position.
But these people, like the TEA party which represents ALEC in the streets, are NOT libertarians. They are for a totalitarian police state. They are the ones who wrote and support the USA PATRIOT Act. They are the ones who want to criminalize Wikileaks and lock up or assassinate Mr. Assange. They are the ones, in concert with the Neocons and "Project for a New American Century," who invented the "war on Terror," and in many people's opinion, are responsible for 9-11, the hysteria against "illegal aliens", as well as the draconian drug laws which criminalize everything which corporations don't already control and profit from.
Much of the testimony in favor of HB 161 was based on the argument that "marijuana isn't medicine." This is flatly false. Marijuana (cannabis) and its derivatives has been a staple of the pharmacopia for as long as there has been a pharmacopia. Look it up. It has numerous medical uses and applications, and it is NOT a "narcotic", as it is presently classified by the DEA. It is a mild euphoric, a consciousness-enhancer, a creativity-enhancer, and a facilitator of social interaction. Its best uses are spiritual and psychological, but it is also prescribed for insomnia, digestion, headaches, seizures, muscle spasms, glaucoma, Parkinson's, and various kinds of pain management, where it is far less dangerous (and not at all addictive) than opiates or other "Class 1 Narcotics."
The solution to most of the "problems" enumerated concerning "medical marijuana" is simple de-criminalization. Whether or not marijuana is a real "medicine", and who should be allowed to use it, prescribe it, or provide it is largely irrelevant to the issue of criminalization, itself (prohibition). There's an old Chinese proverb - "Pass one new law, create 10,000 criminals."
This is certainly the logic of ALEC, and they are the main supporters of more laws to control behavior and people's private choices. It means jobs and profits for their corporate sponsors.
The bottom line is, People have rights. We are free to experiment and self-medicate in any way that doesn't harm other people. Historically, organized crime has "pushed" narcotics and other addictive drugs, as well as alcohol and gambling. Businesses (gangs or "cartels") providing such goods or services can be legitimately outlawed, and certainly are, today. But that doesn't mean we can outlaw people from making their own beer or wine, or treating themselves with traditional medicines - especially in this day and age where the practice of medicine is unaffordable to virtually everyone - even when it is subsidized or "taken over" by the state.
If we had a legitimate, public interest government, the obvious solution would be to have a state monopoly on cannabis and its derivatives, which is the case in much of the Islamic world. In those countries, hashish is the preferred form of cannabis (a concentrated form of marijuana which is even more potent than the best strains we produce, today, with "scientific" growing and breeding practices). Yet, according to Islamic Law, alcohol is absolutely prohibited - often with the death penalty until fairly recently. This, I believe, more accurately reflects the value and harm of the two traditional "social drugs."
Much of the confusion about the effects of cannabis is due to the fact that many people abuse alcohol and cannabis simultaneously. Anyone with experience in doing this knows how bad and harmful it is. The two do not go together, and mixing them invariably leads to black-outs, drunk-driving, fighting, spouse and family abuse, and other anti-social behavior. It's the difference between "getting high" and "getting f*cked up." Marijuana by itself has none of these effects or consequences. Higher consciousness is a good thing, at least to those of us who value intelligence and creativity.
Thus, I would argue that the issue of individual rights is paramount. We must be free to grow, manufacture, or otherwise produce anything we want or need for ourselves, and by extension, to trade or exchange privately with our friends and neighbors. This is truly the American Way. And if I read the opponents of Medical Marijuana correctly, most of them would probably agree with this. It is the abuses of the present law, and a few people visibly making a lot of money off of it which upsets them, and rightly so. But they should be even more upset at the Tavern-video-machine "industry", or the Big Pharma monopolies which have addicted an entire nation with drugs which are incredibly expensive and almost invariably harmful to those who take them under "doctor's (lack of) supervision."
As for the fear-mongering about medical marijuana contributing to a massive surge in teenage marijuana use, this is absurd. For the past 10 years, we were told that there was an epidemic of meth-amphetamine use by teenagers. This was never true, but there is a massive prescription drug abuse epidemic going on among teenagers right now. This, I have always maintained, is due to all the prescription drugs which are provided, free of charge, to elementary and middle-school students "diagnosed" with ADHD, depression, or a variety of other common and historically "normal" behaviors demonstrated by a large percentage of children and adolescents - made much worse by contemporary diet, fast food, high sugar consumption, dysfunctional-abusive families, and "music" and other entertainment which encourages or creates such mental disruption and lack of focus and concentration. We don't need to spend $3000/year giving students drugs they don't want or need under the CHIP program, but virtually every Democrat or "liberal" supports that. And that is the reason that conservatives and church people have been pulling their children out of the public schools, and why they now oppose "medical marijuana" which they see as just another "liberal boondoggle".
There are four main "drugs of choice" which young people use extensively: alcohol (by far the worst, amounting to some 80% of teenage substance abuse), Meth (which can be lumped in with prescribed amphetamines, anti-depressants, and other behavior modifiers, as well as "inhalants" - glue, solvents, paint, etc.), Cocaine (which is very expensive and not much used in Montana, although it has been in the past. There is also "crack" cocaine which is highly addictive and similar in its effects to meth), and finally, marijuana, which is NOT addictive, and by far the least harmful and most easily obtained, or should be.
Yes, marijuana is harmful for children and adolescents, and has been demonstrated to have adverse effects on learning and school performance as well as behavioral development. But it is much less so than any of the other "drugs of choice," and no one is advocating legalizing or facilitating marijuana use by children or teenagers - least of all the Medical Marijuana providers. The best we can do, here, is real, fact-based drug education. It is prohibition and the resulting incentives to create criminal gangs that has turned large numbers of teenagers into addicts. Otherwise, they will learn from experience, and no one will have an incentive to profit from their addictions.
So long as we can legally grow and trade marijuana locally, there is no incentive for anything but local economic development. The money will stay here and circulate with the well-known "multiplier effects", instead of subsidizing criminal gangs in Mexico, Colombia, or Afghanistan (which now provides, thanks to the U.S. Marines, with 93% of the world's heroin).
Big Pharma is the real "drug cartel" and it is totally out of control. Medical marijuana and other traditional forms of medicine will continue whether they are legal or not. There will always be a free market ("black market") in such substances, as well as all the harmful ones. A good government policy is called "harm reduction." We stop arresting, punishing, and locking up people who are simply self-medicating, or helping themselves and their friends to survive in this incredibly hostile and destructive society we have, today. We provide education and treatment, not punishment for those who are having problems with drugs, alcohol, or other harmful substances. It's time to quit punishing the victims, and those who are trying to help them.
- Paul Stephens