Man Without Qualities

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On Dope IV

Anyone with any doubt that the California "medical marijuana" law upheld in Raich seriously and intentionally undermined federal drug policy should read this article from today's New York Times:

I'm a 31-year-old marathon runner who's generally in peak health ... But two months ago, I decided to ... find out just how sick you had to be to obtain marijuana legally. I made a startling discovery. The state health code listing the conditions for which marijuana can be recommended by a doctor includes migraine right after AIDS, cancer and glaucoma. ... In the previous few years, some three dozen Amsterdam-style marijuana markets had opened up in San Francisco ... I had a perverse desire to sample the wares of my local marijuana shop .... To judge by the laissez-faire attitudes that I encountered - from the health department, to sympathetic doctors, to the marijuana emporiums - little seems likely to change for those seeking access to medical marijuana in San Francisco. And gaining access was remarkably easy.

To get in the door of my local marijuana store, the Green Cross, you need a city-issued identification card showing you have a doctor's recommendation for marijuana use. .... I called Medicann, a clinic I'd seen advertised in one of the city's alternative newspapers. I was told I needed to come in for a doctor's evaluation, pay $120 and have a copy of the records describing my migraines. ... The doctor who called me in had a hoop earring in each ear. In his windowless office, he asked me if I'd tried prescription migraine drugs, and heartily agreed when I complained they felt "too chemical." "Most of those drugs are garbage," he declared. He was once a traditional doctor working in a hospital, he said, until he clashed with his supervisor over recommending medical marijuana. He'd recommended medical marijuana to his patients, he told me, after seeing them become dependent on prescription opiates.

"I didn't want to be responsible for turning people into drug addicts," he said passionately, handing me a written recommendation for marijuana. He scoffed at the federal laws and never asked to see my records.

All I needed to do now, the Medicann receptionist told me, was to take my doctor-signed marijuana recommendation to the city's Department of Public Health, and they would issue me my cannabis club card.

I checked the health department Web site and learned that I could take along three people to act as my "primary caregivers." They would get cards entitling them to the same rights and privileges , even though they're not sick. That way, in case I was too infirm to buy my medicine, they could pick it up for me. My real-life primary caregiver, my husband, had failed to grasp the point of my whole experiment, insisting that "pot is basically legal anyway and isn't hard to get." So I took along two good friends instead.

The three of us stood in line inside the health department building for a half hour. When we were eventually called into the back office, a city worker photographed us with a camera festooned with a toy gray mouse wearing a top hat, and said festively, "Look at Smokey!"

A few minutes later, our laminated cards were in our hands. Next to our pictures, they simply read "Patient" and "Caregiver." Our names were left off, to protect us from being identified by federal authorities, it was explained to me at a city government hearing.

Now, in my opinion federal drug policy is a matter on which reasonable people may differ. But can any reasonable person read this Times article and not understand that the effect of the California law on federal policy is substantial - and was intended to be that way? Reading this article with Justice O'Connor's dissent in mind just has to make one wonder what she was smoking when she wrote it.

And it makes one wonder anew how any thoughtful person could think that Raich was an approriate case with which to challenge the existing over-broad construction of the Interstate Commerce Clause.

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