www.medicalrights.org - Floridians for Medical Rights

06.28.1999 / news: Dazed and Confused on Medical Marijuana - A Miami Herald Editorial published June 22, 1999.

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 and underweight.

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 necessity.''

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.
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This article was reprinted from the Miami Herald.


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