What is America smoking?

By Rhonda Swan
(Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer, Friday, March 13, 2009

It's time that America got real about pot.

Charlie Lynch of California should not be facing up to 100 years in federal prison for selling medical marijuana to prescription-holding sick people - a practice that's legal in California but not under federal law.

His marijuana dispensary was raided in 2007. It was one of several targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration before the Obama administration decided to stop the raids in states that allow medical marijuana.

That news comes two years too late for Mr. Lynch, whose sentencing is set for March 23. "It just seems so unfair what they've done to me," Mr. Lynch said to ABC News.

Unfair and hypocritical.

According to an article for The Bulletin for Cannabis Reform, local and federal governments spend an estimated $10.7 billion arresting, prosecuting and punishing marijuana offenders, and lose $31.1 billion a year in lost tax revenues by keeping the $113 billion-a-year marijuana industry underground.

Yet the federal government promotes "pot in a pill."

Here's the endorsement from the DEA: "Medical marijuana already exists. It's called Marinol. The active ingredient of Marinol is synthetic THC, which has been found to relieve the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy for cancer patients and to assist with loss of appetite with AIDS patients."

THC is the "active" ingredient in marijuana. Leave it to Uncle Sam to advocate fake dope.

I learned about Marinol during my mother's recent hospitalization. She hasn't had an appetite in weeks, so the doctor prescribed the drug, anticipating that she'd get the munchies. When it didn't work, he doubled her dose. It's since been doubled again, and she's still not eating.

When I asked why they didn't just let her smoke a joint, I got laughter. But, seriously, why go to the trouble and expense - Marinol costs between $200 and $800 a month, depending on the dose - of making fake pot to do the job of the real thing?

That wouldn't be necessary if we just decriminalized marijuana use. Already, 13 states allow marijuana use for medical purposes, and others - Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire - are considering bills to do so. Last year, Massachusetts voters decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Getting caught with less than an ounce of pot is punishable by a civil fine of $100. No criminal record.

And in California, where desperate times call for reasonable measures, San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced a bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, saying that it would bring about $1 billion to state coffers. The legislation would allow access only to people over 21.

As for the arguments against decriminalizing marijuana, most have been debunked. More people smoke pot in the U.S. than in the Netherlands, where it's been decriminalized - you can buy and smoke weed at coffee shops - for more than 30 years. Decriminalizing it in the U.S. isn't likely to entice hordes of new smokers.

There's no convincing scientific evidence that the drug causes psychological damage, and fewer than 1 percent of smokers get hooked. Marijuana poses minimal damage to the lungs - a lot less than legal tobacco - and there's no proof that it's a gateway drug to crack or heroin.

What has been proven, the Drug Policy Alliance Network argues, is that marijuana does for sick people exactly what the government claims pot in a pill does - but better. And the war on drugs has done nothing to keep people from getting high.

"Use and perception of the drug are little different now than they were 30 years ago," said Taxpayers for Common Sense senior analyst Erich Zimmermann. "Rather than continue to spend billions of dollars on the problem, it would be better for the U.S. government to get out of the marijuana business entirely."

Charlie Lynch would agree.

Rhonda Swan is an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. Her e-mail address is rhonda_swan@pbpost.com

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