National Review has long bucked conservative orthodoxy on drug prohibition. The magazine first came out for drug decriminalization many years ago -- a controversial move for the magazine, and a position not supported by all of its writers. Longtime NR senior editor Rick Brookhiser does support NR's position, especially on marijuana, and can speak from personal experience as to its medical benefits. Now if only the federal government would stop squelching medical marijuana research -- and drug warriors would stop pretending that marijuana is a grave threat to the public order.
The lead editorial in the new issue of National Review, "A Case for Mercy," is powerful and sensible response to the Raich decision. In addition to identifying the flaws of Justice Scalia's concurring opinion, NR highlights the "folly" of current federal policy.
Many patients suffering from terrible diseases find that smoking marijuana provides them relief from their symptoms or from the side-effects of their treatment. The chief response to their plea for compassion, on the part of the drug warriors, has been to insist that the Food and Drug Administration has not determined that marijuana is a safe medicine, and that other palliatives are available. It is a despicable response coming from people who have never allowed researchers the freedom to conduct the detailed clinical trials that the FDA would need to verify safety. A cancer patient seeking a break from overwhelming nausea will hardly be consoled by the knowledge that the government is protecting him from the remote risks that pain relief might bring. Whatever the drug czar thinks, some of these patients say that marijuana substitutes do not work as well as marijuana in relieving their pain. Swallowing Marinol takes longer to work, is more expensive, and has more adverse side effects than smoking marijuana. Should we be happy that with marinol there is less risk that cancer patients will experience some illicit pleasure?Now that's the sort of compassionate conservatism this Administration should endorse -- but I wouldn't bet on it.
Several states have rejected this perverse logic in referenda. The Supreme Court has just ruled, however, that the federal government may continue to prohibit the medicinal use of marijuana. Whether marijuana-using patients in California will face the threat of jail time thus depends not on their state's laws but on the discretion of federal prosecutors. . . .
. . . Allowing sick people to use marijuana probably would marginally reduce the effectiveness of federal anti-drug laws. But it's not as though those laws would be enforced perfectly in the absence of exemptions for medical marijuana. Other factors undermine the law's effectiveness far more: human nature; the economics of prohibition; the exemption from the law we give, in practice, to most casual drug users. Can it really be maintained that the drug laws are working so well for the nation that we cannot risk reducing their efficacy by giving cancer patients a break? And if not, shouldn't Congress amend the law?