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In Defense of Intelligence, Washington Post Columnist Looks Like A Fool

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director October 22, 2009

    I can only imagine how many letters to the editor have arrived at the Washington Post after it published columnist Charles Lane’s intellectually flaccid and insulting column (i.e., Mr. Lane mocks Angel Raich’s medical condition and cites an alleged NORML survey that does not exist) entitled ‘Medical marijuana is an insult to our intelligence‘.

    Below is a letter-to-the-editor that was sent by NORML board member Paul Kuhn…You too can weigh in on Mr. Lane’s ‘defense’ of intelligence (and lack of compassion) here.

    [Paul Armentano updates: The letter to the Washington Post from Paul Kuhn was just one letter penned by NORML representatives. CALIFORNIA NORML, for instance, responded with a separate letter as well, as have several others. As a result the Post has now added this, half-hearted in my opinion, ‘clarification':

    Clarification: An earlier version of this posting said Angel Raich claimed that each of the medical conditions cited in her lawsuit was life-threatening. She asked me to explain that she only contended that one of her conditions — chronic weight loss due to an inability to keep food down — was life-threatening. I am happy to oblige. She is about to undergo an operation to reduce her Schwannoma, which is a benign brain tumor.]

    Medical marijuana is an insult to our intelligence

    The Justice Department says it’s backing off the prosecution of people who smoke pot or sell it in compliance with state laws that permit “medical marijuana.” Attorney General Eric Holder says “it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers.” Party hardy! I mean — let the healing begin!

    I don’t think the federal government should be spending a whole lot of time on small-time druggies, and I’m undecided about legalizing pot, which enjoys 44 percent support among the general public, according to a recent poll. Recreational use is not the wisest thing — and if my 12-year-old son is reading this, that means you! — but it’s no more harmful than other drugs (e.g., alcohol) and impossible to eradicate. On the other hand, I worry it’s a gateway to harder stuff. So I think we probably should have an open debate about decriminalization.

    But it should be a real debate, about real decriminalization, and not clouded — pardon the expression — by hokum about “medical marijuana.” To the extent it puts the attorney general’s imprimatur on the notion that people are getting pot from “caregivers” to deal “with serious illnesses” — as opposed to growing their own or flocking to “dispensaries” just to get high — the Justice Department’s move is not so constructive.

    I do not deny that for some people, including some terminal cancer patients and pain-wracked AIDS sufferers, marijuana is a blessed relief. Let ’em smoke, I say, just as the Justice Department has usually ignored such cases since long before Holder spoke up. But if you believe there is any scientific evidence that smoked marijuana has the multiplicity of therapeutic uses that advocates claim — well, I’ve got a bag of oregano I’d like to sell you.

    Usually, drugs have to pass exacting testing by the Food and Drug Administration before they go on the market. There’s a good reason for this: we don’t want people spending money on products that might be ineffective or actually harmful. In California and elsewhere, however, snake oil — sorry, “medical marijuana” — got on the market via a different route: popular referendum. The pot for sale in dispensaries is subject to none of the purity controls that actual pharmaceutical drugs must meet. Indeed, the new DOJ policy essentially recognizes a gray market for pot, leaving these supposedly seriously ill people at the mercy of their dealers — I mean caregivers — with respect to quality and efficacy.

    What other substances should we handle this way? Cocaine? Laetrile? Didn’t President Obama just sign a bill authorizing the FDA to regulate the nicotine content of tobacco? And I thought he promised to “restore science to its rightful place.”

    Under California’s law, you don’t even need a prescription to get pot (which would admittedly have been a problem, since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency controls who gets a prescription pad, and not many doctors would use theirs to prescribe an illegal drug). All it takes is a “written or oral recommendation” from a physician.

    A few years ago, a California woman called Angel Raich took her defense of medical pot all the way to the Supreme Court. She lost on the legal issue, which had nothing to do with the medical effectiveness of pot. Along the way, though, she claimed that she was suffering from “life-threatening” scoliosis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, bruxism, endometriosis, headache, rotator cuff syndrome, uterine fibroids, and Schwannoma. The Latin names might have snowed some judges, but physicians recognized each of these conditions as a common, non-life-threatening problem for which conventional treatments were available. Raich listed a cornucopia of potent drugs, from Vicodin to Methadone, that she had tried previously and gotten no satisfaction. I’m not a doctor, but I thought she might consider a consultation for hypochondria, or perhaps marijuana dependency.

    This is not an isolated instance. According to a survey by NORML, the pro-“medical marijuana” organization, which can be expected to emphasize the desperate health of users, only 22 percent of California medical marijuana users suffer from AIDS-related disease. Most of the rest have more subjective maladies such as “chronic pain” or “mood disorders.”

    Raich’s physician was Frank Lucido, a well-known Berkeley doctor and pro-pot activist — he also makes money as an expert witness on “medical marijuana” — whose Web site boasts that he was “investigated by the Medical Practices Board of California for cannabis evaluation practices in 2003, and fully exonerated.” The case involved his recommendation of marijuana to treat attention deficit disorder in a 16-year-old boy, but, as I say, he was fully exonerated.

    In a brilliant article (requires subscription) on this subject in the Hastings Center Report, a bioethics journal, lawyer and anesthesiologist Peter J. Cohen noted that “medical marijuana” groups have been notably passive about demanding FDA testing and approval for this purported elixir. Instead, they took their case to the people. As Cohen argued, this is no way to make health policy: “medical marijuana,” he wrote, should be “subjected to the same scientific scrutiny as any drug proposed for use in medical therapy, rather than made legal for medical use by popular will.” The “medical marijuana” movement may not be a threat to our civilization, but it is an insult to our intelligence.

    Re: Charles Lane’s column on medical marijuana.

    Dear Editors,

    In the most inane column I have read in the Post, the most offensive comments are those labeling Angel Raich a hypochondriac fraud. Next Thursday, she will undergo brain surgery at Stanford Hospital.

    The most puzzling comments are those acknowledging marijuana is a “blessed relief” for certain patients and at the same time “an insult to our intelligence.”

    The most misinformed comments are those asking why marijuana is not FDA-approved when the government prohibits research on marijuana.

    When my late wife was battling  cancer, marijuana relieved her pain after the best legal medications failed.  I’ll believe my own eyes over Mr. Lane’s confused words.

    Sincerely yours,

    Paul H. Kuhn
    Nashville TN

    128 Responses to “In Defense of Intelligence, Washington Post Columnist Looks Like A Fool”

    1. Ben Barton says:

      “Usually, drugs have to pass exacting testing by the Food and Drug Administration before they go on the market. There’s a good reason for this: we don’t want people spending money on products that might be ineffective or actually harmful.”

      Can you please explain how this applies to cigarettes and alcohol? Both of which are sold legally in this country.

    2. Carrie says:

      Paul, your defense of medical marijuana is weak at best. You could have cited actual research instead of your own subjective personal opinion. If NORML didn’t publish the poll cited, why didn’t you mention that in your defense? I’m rather disappointed in your response, especially being a leader of NORML. The author of the original article can look at your response as ill informed and lacking in any evidence to support your case.

      [Editor’s note: Mr. Kuhn did not know that Mr. Lane misquoted a non-NORML report when he submitted his op-ed. Letters to the editor often have a better chance of getting published when they’re under 125 words, and cite personal experiences. The author of the original screed, Charles Lane, can not view the experience of a primary caregiver to his dying spouse as “ill-informed and lacking evidence’.

      If you want to submit a science-filled reply to Mr. Lane, rather than degrade Mr. Kuhn’s timely, necessarily short and personal correspondence, go for it. ]

    3. corey says:

      Just terrible

    4. BlazeIt says:

      Wow! What an asshole

    5. Janiece Senn says:

      This guy should spend some time on chemo. See how he feeds himself with a mouth full of blisters and a stomach that refuses anything put in it. Let him convince himself to eat when everything taste like dirt and mold, even the tap water. Throw in some brain radiation that destroys your saliva glands and see if he survives on the approved drugs that don’t help and only make you so dizzy that you feel like your going to pass out when you stand up. I was put on several different drugs that were supposed to help but the side effects in every case were to much, not to mention I threw them up half the time. They all say to eat before you take them which is a joke since you take them to be able to eat. A nurse privately suggested marijuana which is illegal in my state. I managed to get some and it helped so much. I had been losing weight rapidly and it slowed that down and allowed me to nourish my body so it could heal. Don’t you just love it when these people write articles on stuff they have no clue about. As if we need another jack ass columnist.

    6. D.Phresh says:

      Charles Lane is a complete idiot. I’m truly offended…

    7. Mike Shives says:

      Let me guess, Bob and Tom listener? Not a show full of facts, Mr. Lane.

    8. Terry jones says:

      He just tore himself anew one. All I have to say We the people will not stand for this critisizm. Medical Marijuana is the cure for pain in most ailments. I agree I would not like my son at age 4 legaly smoking marijuana. But I would like to see a bigger change in the medical marijuana field. We have millions of people suffering and dying because they cant recieve their perscriptions without getting arrested for them. I dont know about you guys, but i have taken many perscriptions that the doctor has tried to figure out the problem to. for bi polar/add. hell I dont even think they realy know. Ive gained 250lbs from anti depresants like zoloft,moodswings, wanted to kill myself, hated life in general. Out of everything my mom decides to hand me a prerolled marijuana ciggerett. and says this will make you feel better. Since that day its been 15 yrs now and im still smoking. I have never been happy,loved,or felt a calling in life untill i found marijuana. So all you prosocuters need to realy look deep down in your souls and ask yourself? Am I really being fair? I am a wonderful husband of six yrs wonder ful father of a 4 yr old. And I am Happy! :’) Please stop herassing for witch you know nothing about. Peace and Love to the real world out their. NOT the GOVERNMENTS!

      Sincerely Terry . J

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