A recent court ruling
is welcome, but more change is needed
You be the judge: Before
you is an AIDS patient charged with possessing marijuana. He pleads
that the prescription drugs he takes to bolster his weakened immune
system suppress his appetite and leave him chronically nauseous
The defendant testifies
that smoking pot is the only way he can tolerate the food that
he needs to survive, and he cites a National Institute of Medicine
study to back him up. The two-year study released in March confirms
that smoking marijuana is effective in treating the pain, nausea
and the severe weight loss common in cases of full-blown AIDS.
After hearing this
evidence, you (a) jail the defendant because the law's the law;
(b) free him and order the cops to leave him alone; (c) give him
probation and warn him to go and toke no more -- even if abstaining
brings pain, suffering and a higher risk of death.
If this scenario leaves
you a bit dazed and confused, welcome to the bizarre matrix of
state and federal laws, rules and policies now guiding a criminal-justice
system clumsily trying to cope with issues more properly left
to doctors and their patients.
A recent ruling by
the Florida Supreme Court, while clearly correct, did little to
clarify the larger issues. The court ruled that an appeals court
was right in holding that a trial judge erred in refusing to consider
a defendant's argument that his use of marijuana was a ``medical
While judges hearing
similar cases are now on notice to allow such testimony, trial
verdicts may be unaffected. So patients using marijuana for medical
purposes still assume a legal risk.
Moreover, even if the
dispute in Florida ultimately is resolved -- by the courts or
the Legislature -- in favor of legalizing the use of medical marijuana
with a doctor's prescription, the feds strongly oppose allowing
the states any discretion in these matters.
Although Florida law
has taken a tiny step forward, patients using marijuana for medical
reasons won't be safe from prosecution until the federal government
starts using medical science instead of myths and political expediency
when formulating its policies on drugs.
browse the FMR response