Drug Enforcement Administration agents carrying automatic weapons stormed a nonprofit hospice in Santa Cruz last year because the facility was growing and distributing medical marijuana to its ill patients. Suzanne Pfeil, who generally uses a wheelchair and is unable to walk without crutches because she suffers from post-polio syndrome, was ordered to stand up even though the agents could see her nearby crutches and leg-braces. When she couldn’t stand up, the feds handcuffed Pfeil to her bed while they sought the care facility’s medical marijuana.
These are the types of dubious victories the war on drugs is achieving. It is also the biggest reason everyone from the Supreme Court to Gov. Gray Davis to the San Diego City Council is seeking to protect medical marijuana patients from unlawful harassment.
In his signing spree over the weekend, Davis finally approved a bill (SB 420) that will allow the state’s medical marijuana patients to obtain optional ID cards protecting them from arrest. (San Diego recently passed a similar plan, and San Francisco and numerous other cities have already been operating medical marijuana ID programs.)
The identification system will allow many of society’s sickest citizens to retain a little dignity by avoiding a trip to jail if law enforcement officers throughout the state question or detain them.
Authorities would use the ID cards to verify that a doctor has prescribed the drug to the person in question, and that the amount carried is within the allowable limit. If someone doesn’t have the card, or possesses too much of the drug, they would be subject to arrest.
California didn’t think it would need to issue ID cards. In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, or Proposition 215, which was supposed to make certain that gravely ill people could get medical marijuana if their doctors prescribed it. However, federal authorities have ignored the will of Californians and have frequently attacked the law during the Bush administration, with the DEA conducting military-like raids and jailing known medical marijuana growers throughout the state.
In fact, the Bush administration went so far as to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the federal government could punish doctors for simply suggesting or just talking about marijuana with their patients. Thankfully, the Supreme Court yesterday rejected that request.
Nevertheless, many ill or dying patients will actually avoid the optional ID cards — fearing that if they register their names they will be vulnerable to greater harassment and scrutiny from federal agencies like the DEA. For others, the ID card system will provide some relief and perhaps serve as a form of civil disobedience against the DEA and those pointless attacks. Along the way it also will further entrench California as the state blazing a trail for the others to follow.
Californians have demonstrated repeatedly a desire to help long-suffering patients who might be aided by medical marijuana. Look no further than the recent recall election for the broad scope of support that medical marijuana enjoys today. All of the election’s major candidates: Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger (no surprise since you can see him smoke marijuana in the documentary “Pumping Iron”), Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and conservative Sen. Tom McClintock all agreed on one thing – that medical marijuana should be legal for select Californians.
But this isn’t even one of those wacky California-only things. The entire country overwhelmingly supports the use of medical marijuana: 80 percent of Americans support the legal use of medicinal marijuana by patients, and 72 percent say adults who smoke marijuana recreationally should get off with a fine, according to a national TIME/CNN poll published in October 2002.
California’s new statewide ID card system will prove to be a method of providing our society’s ailing members more medical choices, while also allowing our already thinly stretched law enforcement agencies to focus their resources more appropriately. San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne told The San Diego Union-Tribune that the ID card ordinance “makes my job easier.”
It also will make life easier for patients like Suzanne Pfeil, who are fighting life-and-death battles and shouldn’t have to waste time with, or be victims of, the federal government’s misguided crusade against medical marijuana.
David Nott is the President of Reason Foundation.