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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Medical Marijuana and Assisted Suicide

Lawyers love precedent and a new and potentially dangerous precedent has been set. Yesterday the Justice Department released a far reaching directive. In the fourteen states that make allowances for the use of medical marijuana federal prosecutors will not prosecute patients and distributors that are in clear and unambiguous compliance with state laws. This new stance on the use of medical marijuana makes sense. Surely people with a demonstrated medical need should be permitted to use marijuana. Clinical studies have proved that the use of marijuana is useful treating the symptoms for a number of medical conditions. More generally, why marijuana is illegal is a mystery to me. Marijuana is part of American culture as much as alcohol use. I don't see anyone suggesting beer should be made illegal. I for one one would like to see marijuana legalized and taxed as heavily as alcohol and cigarettes. But this post is less about marijuana use than it is about politics and the law.

The Justice Department directive is a political statement by the Obama administration--one that cuts in different directions. This decision is the latest in a string of decisions designed to reverse the Bush conservative agenda. As expected, former Bush administrators are not happy. For instance, Lamar Smith of Texas believes the new position on medical marijuana will weaken drug enforcement. Oh, please! Has Mr. Smith been to a college campus recently where the use of marijuana is as common as drinking beer and has been for almost 40 years. Has Mr. Smith been to a high-school recently where marijuana use is equally common. What is of interest beyond archetypical comments such as those that come from Mr. Smith or at the other end of the spectrum the American Civil Liberties Union is that the medical use of marijuana crosses ideological lines. Liberals are delighted medical marijuana use has become easier and patients less likely to be prosecuted. Conservatives, while unhappy about medical marijuana, are delighted that the Obama administration could be perceived as taking a states rights approach. Conservatives love deferring to a state's rights stance.

The states right stance is why I am worried about the larger implications of the Justice Department directive on marijuana use. The Justice Department has provided guidelines and given specific examples of under what circumstances people will be prosecuted. This sounds very close to what was just decided in Britain by the Crown Protective Service with regard to assisted
suicide. When I combine this with assisted suicide as it is being debated by the court in Montana a precedent has been set. While the law may state one thing, prosecution is not likely. In the case of medical marijuana its use has been proven successful in cities like Seattle. Thus it is no surprise that Obama listened to Richard Gil Kerlikoske, former police chief of Seattle now a top drug advisor in the administration. Since Obama has a penchant for making decisions that are designed to please different constituencies could a case be made to let states decide the legality of assisted suicide. This seems to be the growing trend. The medical use of marijuana has popular support nationwide and in some states assisted suicide not only has popular support but has been made legal. Could the legalization of assisted suicide in Washington and Oregon yield the same results that the legalization of medical marijuana has had. In 1996 California was the first state to make the use of medical marijuana legal. Today, fourteen states have passed similar laws. I hate to be alarmist but it seems to me that at first glance most think yes, assisted makes sense. If we can euthanasia a dog why can't we end a person's suffering at the end of their life as well. This is a great sound bite but scratch the surface of the assisted suicide debate and a very different reality emerges. Those that take advantage of assisted suicide are often not terminally ill. Think Daniel James who I have written about many times. While I may value my life, I know others do not. I am not alone. Far too many Peter Singer's of the world are willing to end the the lives of those that are perceived to lack value. Assisted suicide is a step toward eliminating, killing, those we do not value.

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