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No freedom to feel better

Matt Zalaznick

Despite all this faith and “Christian compassion,” there’s a definite disdain for the dying and desperately ill in America.Terri Schiavo? What passed for sympathy there was nothing more than Fristian political phonies playing at holiness in an attempt to bribe votes out of narrow-minded zealots (call them Dobsonians) who only have compassion for people who die in a manner befitting their scripture. Early in my career I covered a meeting in a San Francisco police station where a dying man, confined to a wheelchair by his affliction, made the most convincing argument in favor of the medicinal use of marijuana I’ve ever heard. I can’t remember if it was AIDS, cancer or some other horrible scourge, but the man wasn’t long for the world. The only thing easing his departure was marijuana, a natural, non-addictive substance voters in California, Colorado and several other states have decided can be used as medicine.That may not be quite as many people who claim to be “values voters,” but 11 states – with more states likely to endorse the medicinal use of marijuana – is a substantial statement that says Americans think smoking pot is OK when you’re terminally ill or in constant pain. The dying man in the police station said the medication he took poisoned him, made him nauseous, had debilitating side effects. The medication may have kept his body alive, but he couldn’t eat or sleep, and the side effects destroyed his psyche. Smoking marijuana gave him an appetite and helped him relax. Marijuana kept his mind going and brought him some peace. How is that criminal?Maybe it’s against the “law,” but it’s hardly immoral to ease pain. And how about this, all you value voters: Preventing someone from using a drug to make themselves feel better – a drug that’s no more harmful than a couple of beers or a Prozac regimen, and probably less harmful than tobacco and alcohol – defies moral law. I’ve also spent time in San Francisco’s cannabis clubs, where some very sick people can get marijuana in a safer, more comfortable setting than a street corner or parking lot. Some of these people also were the working poor. Either their bosses didn’t offer health insurance or they couldn’t pay the exorbitant prices prescription drug companies are allowed to charge. Some surely couldn’t afford any more health care than what’s offered in public health clinics (whose budgets are generally being slashed) or emergency rooms. What happened to caring for the underprivileged? Sure, a few dope fiends sneak in to cannabis clubs to get wasted, usually friends of the proprietor, but so what? A few young people abusing the system’s worth a few hours of priceless respite for the gravely ill. Who gets hurt, anyway? The marijuana trade only seems to get violent when the police raid somebody’s growing operation. Law enforcement also is using scare tactics to convince people new strains of marijuana, called “BC bud” for the Canadian province of British Columbia where it is grown, are extra-potent and as dangerous as crack cocaine.Well, a cancer patient getting high in his living room – even if it’s extra-strength weed – is a lot less dangerous than the community pillars who drive home a little tipsy (or hammered) from your average wine-tasting fund-raiser. And isn’t the right-wing supposed to defend privacy? Another scare tactic is that allowing the medical use of marijuana could lead to full-blown legalization, could lead to the drug being sold to children. Full-blown legalization wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Perhaps if you legalized less harmful drugs like marijuana, cocaine and LSD, people wouldn’t bother with the risk of more serious substances like crack cocaine, heroin and meth-amphetamine. And law enforcement resources directed toward these fronts of the War on Drugs could be (should be) redirected to actually protecting people – homeland security, women’s shelters, gun control. America’s children probably have a lot more to worry about – like being shot at school. More children have died from senseless gunfire than from smoking joints. Still, deadly weapons, because they are tolerated among all levels of society, are a lot easier for a child to pick up and fire. America’s children, in some parts of the country, have to try to succeed despite bankrupt public schools. American children across the country have to try to live a good life despite deadbeat dads, abusive relatives, undiagnosed mental illness, inane media that tell little girls they should dress like hookers, inane media that tell little boys they should know how to throw a perfect spiral, inane messages from Washington about evolution and the environment, and a host of other miseries. City Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com or 949-0555, ext. 606.Vail, Colorado


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