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The federal war on drugs expands.


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Deroy Murdock

At a time when federal officials should focus obsessively on crushing terrorists, they are expanding the disastrous war on drugs into an even more pointless war on substances. From old bogeymen like marijuana to new “hazards” like Oxycontin, Washington busybodies are knocking themselves out combating compounds that, by themselves, do not threaten public safety.

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The Justice Department has appealed a December 2003 federal court decision that barred Uncle Sam from impeding Californians who use personally grown, locally cultivated, or charitably donated medical marijuana. In Raich v. Ashcroft, the Ninth Circuit correctly disallowed the Constitution’s commerce-clause rationale for federal intervention. After all, how can interstate commerce include intrastate, noncommercial activity?

Rather than accept defeat and confront genuine dangers, Attorney General John Ashcroft seeks Supreme Court permission to keep raiding medical-marijuana suppliers and harassing people such as Angel Raich who has used medical marijuana to treat a brain tumor, wasting syndrome, seizures, and more.

Among many others, the feds also are prosecuting Gary and Anna Barrett. This Victorville, California couple had state permission to grow marijuana to address their respective ailments. He suffers Crohn’s disease, a potentially lethal digestive disease. She uses marijuana to relieve the pain she has endured since surviving a five-story fall from a London hotel balcony during their 1995 honeymoon.

“We are disappointed, but not surprised, that Attorney General Ashcroft has chosen to ask the Supreme Court for what amounts to a license to attack the sick,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project. “Conservatives should be appalled that the Justice Department is arguing that two patients and their caregivers, growing and using medical marijuana within California–using California seeds, California soil, California water, and California equipment, and engaging in no commercial activity whatsoever–are somehow engaged in ‘interstate commerce.’”

On April 12, the Bush administration became the first to prohibit a dietary supplement, yet another GOP triumph. Ephedra, an herbal stimulant, helped dieters lose weight–a healthy objective–and energized others, much as does currently legal caffeine. Alas, Sidney Wolfe of the liberal Public Citizen estimates that ephedra has contributed to some 155 deaths since January 1993. But as Reason magazine’s Jacob Sullum notes, “this number is remarkably low given how many people have used ephedra. Until the recent bad publicity cut into sales, the industry estimated that 12 million to 17 million Americans were taking around 3 billion doses a year.”

Sullum compares these 155 possible ephedra deaths spanning 11 years with the federal Drug Abuse Warning Network’s survey of coroners’ reports. In 1999 alone, DAWN found 811 multiple-drug overdose deaths that included Valium ingestion, 427 fatalities that involved Tylenol, and 104 that entailed aspirin. Why not ban those drugs, too?

The Justice Department led a federal grand jury to issue a 42-count indictment against San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds’s personal trainer, Greg Anderson; track coach Remi Korchemny; and Victor Conte Jr. and James J. Valente, executives of the Bay Area Lab Cooperative. They are accused of giving professional athletes anabolic steroids.

“Illegal steroid use calls into question not only the integrity of the athletes who use them, but also the integrity of the sports that those athletes play,” Ashcroft told reporters February 11. “Steroids are bad for sports, they’re bad for players, they’re bad for young people who hold athletes up as role models.”

There you have it: Uncle Sam has seized the responsibility for policing America’s hallowed sports teams and athletes. Who needs the commissioners of baseball and football? Even if steroids were Washington’s business, must the attorney general spend even three seconds on this? Surely Ashcroft has more pressing items in his inbox. So does every other steroid cop. Ashcroft should scrap this project.

Hydrocodone (Vicodin) is America’s most widely prescribed drug. Doctors prescribed it 100 million times in 2002, according to Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington.

“Nowadays a physician can prescribe this drug and give patients multiple refills,” Michaels says. “Now, the Drug Enforcement Administration wants you to see your doctor before every refill. Its proposal will require 300 million more doctor’s office visits per year, assuming that one visit today covers two refills. That equals 150 million worker days lost.”

Michaels badly injured his neck in a softball mishap, leaving him in such agony that he wanted to die.

“Unremitting and severe chronic pain creates a very logical decision on the part of the patient not to want to live,” Michaels recalls. “I remember thinking it was stupid to be alive…. Along with 38 million other people, my life was made a heck of a lot more livable with hydrocodone.”

The DEA wants to make hydrocodone a Schedule II drug, track how much of it doctors prescribe, and monitor the amount each patient receives.

“I can assure you,” Michaels warns, “this is going to make doctors reluctant to prescribe the world’s most popular pain reliever.”

”The sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship is being destroyed by federal bureaucrats, who have turned the drug war into a war on pain relief,” Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (R., Tex.) lamented in an April 19 commentary. The feds have threatened prosecution and loss of medical licenses for physicians who prescribe strong painkillers such as Oxycontin. While some abuse these pharmaceuticals, many more rely on them to ease pain. Nonetheless, Rep. Paul wrote, some doctors no longer prescribe these pharmaceuticals while others “have even posted signs in their waiting rooms advising patients not to ask for Oxycontin and similar drugs.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi encapsulated Justice’s profound disdain for pain specialists when he declared: “Our office will try our best to root out certain doctors like the Taliban.”

Adults should be free to stimulate, fortify, or medicate themselves however they wish, so long as they simultaneously respect the rights and safety of others. As al Qaeda prepares bloody surprises, it is simply surreal for federal officials to exert even one calorie of collective energy to battle American citizens who trim their waistlines, boost their batting averages, or soothe their pounding nerve endings.



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