There is a small sliver of sanity in the midst
of the current drug dementia — the renewed move to make
marijuana available as medicine. Recently, hearings on the
medical value of marijuana have been scheduled by the Drug
The federal government should decide to make marijuana available
by prescription to sick people. Such an enlightened decision
would be precisely the kind of action that has saved this
nation in past emotional disputes — a compromise in
the middle ground between the extremes of opinion. We must
fashion a bundle of these peaceful compromises, and soon,
if we are to head off an increasingly damaging drug war.
The most pitiful victims of our drug wars are the millions
of ill Americans denied the full range of possible treatments
because our fears about drugs intrude irrationally into the
laws controlling what drugs may be used in medicine and how.
If we do nothing else, we must back the drug cop and the drug-cop
mentality out of medical practice and allow doctors the fullest
possible freedom in selecting and administering medicines
to our sick.
During the Thirties, Harry Anslinger, the flinty head of
the old Federal Bureau of Narcotics, convinced congress that
reefers were a threat to our survival and thus the Marijuana
Tax Act of 1937 restricted this drug, like narcotics, to medical
practice. In 1970, the Nixon Administration went even further
and placed it in Schedule I of a new federal law, where it
became forbidden for use even in medicine, along with such
substances as heroin and LSD. Starting in 1972, the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has
been litigating against the federal government simply to get
marijuana put into Schedule II, where it could be used in
medicine, but under tight restrictions, like morphine and
Despite the harsh federal prohibition, 33 states have passed
laws authorizing the use of marijuana in medicine, the federal
government has consistently placed roadblocks in the way of
implementing truly effective programs for distributing medical
marijuana to large numbers of suffering patients.
The wide-eyed federal narcs have fought the rescheduling
of pot fiercely. NORML persisted and just won a small but
significant victory. DEA has allowed the marketing of Marinol,
a medicine containing synthetic THC, the main active ingredient
pot, and has agreed to a full administrative hearing on the
medical value of natural marijuana and its component parts,
such as natural THC pills. NORML's position is that the full
range of natural and synthetic marijuana products should be
available to meet the varied needs of the ill. It is asking
victims to come forward as witnesses to support that position.
Marijuana is not a miracle drug nor is it a magic cure for
any disease. However, several million organically ill people
might be helped by marijuana as medicine The most numerous
would be found among the hundreds of thousands of cancer patients
suffering intense nausea and discomfort from chemotherapy
and radiation. To those drug warriors who want to restrict
the ill to THC pills, which do help some patients, listen
to the voice of Ann Guttentag of Pennsylvania: "After
chemotherapy, you can't even hold a sip of water down."
To this terminal cancer patient, a friendly gift of illegal
pot cigarettes was like "a gift from heaven!" She
fought her government and finally got legal marijuana cigarettes
but died a few months later. So this is a voice from the grave.
Joseph Hutchins faces jail from a Massachusetts judge who
recently convicted him of marijuana charges for growing his
own medicine. Joe represents a vast number of ill people suffering
a range of comparatively rare diseases who stumble upon marijuana
to ease their suffering. This straight-arrow Navy Vet contracted
scleroderma — which causes tightening of the skin, inability
to swallow, and, often, death — while in the service.
The [Veteran's Administration] had him on sever powerful medicines,
most addicting narcotics. He was a legal drug addict whose
mind, he said, was gone. Joe has thrown away all of the narcotics,
uses only pot and a blood pressure medicine, and is now quite
functional. His doctors state that marijuana appears to have
helped him dramatically although it has not cured his disease.
Robert Randall of the nation's capital suffers from glaucoma,
as do perhaps two million other Americans — 200,000
to 400,000 of whom would be candidates for trying a new medicine
such as marijuana. In 1972 a doctor told this young man of
24 that he had the disease and could expect to go blind in
3 – 5 years. Bob discovered by accident that marijuana
eased his condition significantly and embarked upon a courageous
campaign to obtain legal marijuana cigarettes. THC pills did
not help him. Natural marijuana reduced his ocular pressure.
With the free help of a major Washington law firm, he won
an astounding series of victories and is now the only person
I have been able to discover who has received legal marijuana
cigarettes by prescription for years (along with other standard
medicine) to ease the impact of an illness.
Bob Randall still can see. He asks, "Why am I the only
one in the lifeboat?" In a truly human society, why indeed?
Editors Note: This column was
originally published in the Fall, 1986 edition of NORML's
Common Sense for America, and is republished with permission
from NORML and Arnold Trebach. An update on these events can
be found here.