Saturday, July 30, 2005

Drug czar says ruling
is killing medical pot

The White House drug czar said yesterday in Honolulu that medical marijuana is "dying out" after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that federal authorities may prosecute sick people whose doctors prescribe marijuana to ease pain.

John Walters, the national drug policy director, said state legislative efforts to expand medical marijuana programs have stalled in the two months since the high court's ruling overrode laws in Hawaii and nine other states.

Municipalities, he added, have refrained from handing out more permits for medical marijuana dispensaries in their communities and from opening more such facilities.

"I think it's dying out," Walters told reporters after a meeting with Hawaii drug treatment counselors and law enforcement officials. "The real issue here is, Is it the safe and best way for medical treatment? We don't think the best thing for people who are really sick is to make them high and send them away."

The Supreme Court ruled in early June that people who smoke marijuana because their doctors recommend it to ease pain can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws.

Pamela Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said Walters' statement stemmed from "wishful thinking."

She noted Rhode Island's state Senate voted in late June -- several weeks after the Supreme Court ruling -- to override their governor's veto of a bill allowing the seriously ill to use marijuana. If the Rhode Island House overrides the veto, the New England state would become the 11th to permit medical marijuana use.

"The Supreme Court decision did not slow down the momentum," Lichty said. "It's still continuing and Rhode Island shows it."

Federal law enforcement officials said individual users faced minimal chance of being targeted for prosecution despite the Supreme Court's decision because they would be focusing their resources on catching drug traffickers.

About 2,600 patients are certified to use marijuana for medical purposes in Hawaii.

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