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Bob Barr Is Barr-baric on Medical Marijuana

(Note: Today Bob Barr is one of my favorite conservatives -- an important spokesman for civil liberties and limited government, in a time when those values are considered treasonous by our rulers. But in 2001, when I wrote this, the civil libertarian in Barr had not yet emerged, and he was well-known as one of the worst of the congressional Drug Warriors. See my note at the end of this letter for how the medical marijuana issue actually helped Barr lose his bid for re-election.)

Dear editor,

I was disgusted by “Rep.” Bob Barr’s callous and inaccurate response to the recent Supreme Court decision concerning medical marijuana. (“Barr Hails Pot Decision,” Daily Tribune News, May 15.)

Barr stated that “the true aim of those who support the so-called medical marijuana movement has been, and continues to be, the legalization of all drugs.”

That is utter nonsense, and Barr knows it.

Here are a few of the organizations that have endorsed medical access to marijuana: the Institute of Medicine; the American Academy of Family Physicians; American Bar Association; American Public Health Association; American Society of Addiction Medicine; AIDS Action Council; British Medical Association; California Academy of Family Physicians; California Legislative Council for Older Americans; California Medical Association; California Nurses Association; California Pharmacists Association; California Society of Addiction Medicine; California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church; Colorado Nurses Association; Consumer Reports Magazine; Kaiser Permanente; Lymphoma Foundation of America; Multiple Sclerosis California Action Network; National Association of Attorneys General; National Association of People with AIDS; National Nurses Society on Addictions; New Mexico Nurses Association; New York State Nurses Association; New England Journal of Medicine; and Virginia Nurses Association. (Source: Common Sense for Drug Policy)

Does Barr really believe all these organizations support medical marijuana because they secretly want to legalize all drugs? Or does he think they are all so stupid as to be unwitting dupes of the drug legalization movement?

A 1997 editorial in the distinguished New England Journal of Medicine said: "Federal authorities should rescind their prohibition of the medicinal use of marijuana for seriously ill patients and allow physicians to decide which patients to treat."

Does Barr believe that the “true aim” of the New England Journal of Medicine is to legalize all drugs under the smokescreen of supporting medical marijuana?

Give me a break.

Polls consistently show that the great majority of Americans strongly support medical marijuana. The reason is simple: most people have compassion for those suffering from cancer, AIDS, chemotherapy-related nausea, muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, and other terrible illnesses that can be treated or relieved with medical marijuana. Barr either lacks such compassion, or is astonishingly ignorant.

Further, most Americans believe that it is sick people and their doctors who should make such private and deeply personal decisions -- not big-government, meddling politicians like Barr.

A 1999 Gallup poll found that a whopping 73% of American adults support "making marijuana legally available for doctors to prescribe in order to reduce pain and suffering." Polls during the past few years have found similar overwhelming support.

When given a chance, Americans vote for medical marijuana, too. Voters in California, Arizona, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado and the District of Columbia have approved medical marijuana via ballot initiatives. Last year, the state legislature of Hawaii legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. This week Nevada's Governor signed a bill allowing ill Nevadans to grow and use marijuana with the written
permission of their doctors.

Those states make up well over 20% of America’s population. No state ballot initiative in favor of medical marijuana has ever lost.

Barr aside, many conservatives are strong supporters of medical marijuana. Virtually the entire editorial staff of National Review, America’s leading conservative magazine, favors legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. (See, for example, their *** issue.) William F. Buckley, the Founding Father of the modern conservative movement, favors medical marijuana.

Barr argues that marijuana has no legitimate medical use. Yet in March 1999, the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine -- composed of some of America’s leading medical minds -- declared: "[T]here are some limited circumstances in which we recommend smoking marijuana for medical purposes... Nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety . . . all can be mitigated by marijuana." This, incidentally, was in a report commissioned by the U.S. Drug Czar’s office. Who should we trust on matters of science and medicine: the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine -- or Congressman Barr?

Today, doctors can legally prescribe morphine and cocaine -- substances far more dangerous and addictive than marijuana -- to patients under some circumstances. (Visit any hospital to see “medical morphine” in action.) Why on earth shouldn’t sick patients -- human beings suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other serious conditions -- be able to use what large numbers of scientists, researchers, doctors and patients say may be the most effective treatment for their condition?

Thanks to extremist demagogues like Barr, sick and dying patients who use medical marijuana, and those who would help them, are subject to arrest, imprisonment, and other savage penalties. Many other patients are afraid to use marijuana, or never discover that marijuana could help them, thus suffering and even dying needlessly. It is barbaric -- or maybe a better term is “Barr-baric.”

I don’t see how Barr can live with himself, knowing that he is playing political football with the lives of these desperately ill people and their loved ones. His policy is horrible and cruel. The blood of innocent people is on his hands.

Voters should kick Barr out of office next time around. They should elect someone with the compassion to help the sick and suffering, and the common sense to distinguish between criminals and seriously ill people.


James W. Harris

(Daily Tribune News, May 2001. Interestingly, voters DID kick Barr out of office, and in part it was because of highly publicized TV ads and other ads highlighting his medical marijuana policy, run by a Libertarian Party of Georgia gubernatorial candidate. To his great credit, Barr seems to bear no grudge, and indeed has written very favorably about the Libertarian Party and spoken at many libertarian gatherings.) 

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