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Not Just a High

Mises Daily: Thursday, August 23, 2001 by

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Waiting To Inhale. By Alan Bock. (Seven Locks Press, 2000, 286 pages) $18.95.

Alan Bock, senior editorial writer for the Orange County Register, knows marijuana. Bock has covered California's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, since the movement began in 1996. His book, Waiting to Inhale, gives its readers a smoking inside look at the forces behind the movement to give medical patients access to the legal use of marijuana.

Bock leads us through a journey that begins with his sporadic involvement covering hemp and marijuana reform issues, and centers on the campaign to pass Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Act.

In 1995, California patient-activists began the process to legalize the medical use of marijuana, and later enlisted the help of East Coast pros and big-money entrepreneurs such as George Soros. Facing opposition from just about every aspect of government, including most federal, state, and local agencies, Proposition 215 passed, and the obstacle then became one of implementation in the face of bureaucratic and law enforcement tyranny.

The voters of California spoke. Clearly, they decided that no drug enforcement issues should stand in the way of medical patients who found that smoking a joint—in private, on their own property—could bring pain relief and a better quality of life.

Immediately upon passage of the referendum, the drug war movement went into action. "Drug czar" General Barry McCaffrey threatened the arrest of doctors recommending marijuana, former czar William Bennett claimed stupidity for the voting public, and the entire neocon-right asserted the for the children morality argument.

The issue of implementation soon became a question of states' rights vs. federal usurpation of powers. Most staggering is the blatant abuse of federal powers in sustaining a block on the implementation of state laws through the use of bureaucratic and administrative procedures. In addition, the IRS promised to torment doctors prescribing marijuana, while Orrin Hatch's Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings to battle the legality of the California law. Bill Clinton's bevy of antagonists included Janet Reno and Donna Shalala, both avowed leftists who clashed against their own kind. Clearly, sustenance of a federal mastery over the behavior of its minions superceded a politically incorrect freedom-for-pot-smokers movement.

In continued opposition, the feds stood in the way of the use, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana. Federal controls on marijuana meant that California had passed a law but that it could not be implemented by state agencies. The DEA raided medical marijuana distributors that adhered to state laws for the distribution of prescribed marijuana. Individuals were arrested at will for growing their own pot for their own prescribed use, which state law allowed. Therefore, the state was powerless against the feds.

Even where the feds were not present, some of the locals fought implementation, as judges and prosecutors and police made medical marijuana users favorite targets of judicial impediment. Local law enforcement was allowed to bust patient-growers, arrest doctors, and close down legal distribution centers. The problem was that the state attorney general's office not only did not see to it that local law enforcement didn't run hog wild with a despotic harassment methodology; they also stood by while these thugs broke down doors and arrested legal medicinal users.

Bock oftentimes points out that there was never much grassroots opposition standing in the way of medical marijuana consent. Everywhere there are polls on this issue, voters overwhelmingly support the use of medical marijuana. After all, most people have the ability to discern that individuals have the right to alleviate pain, even if that includes using nontypical methods not approved by the assorted government bureaucracies.

Overall, Bock does an admirable job of making the case for states' rights and the necessity for judicial decisions to uphold a legally passed state law in the face of federal resistance. However, he is almost too nice in taking up a whole lot of space to sustain the argument that smoking marijuana doesn't lead to the increased use of illicit drugs. Whether or not this is the case, the decision to ingest particular foods or smoke certain substances is one that only an individual can make, for no government can make these decisions for us without sustaining tyranny over our lives. Medical marijuana is compassionate, yes, but it is also a liberty that should not have to be decided by federal or state bureaucrats, or even our neighbors.

The outcome of this entire bloody drug war is that Americans no longer have control over their own lives. In fact, they are economically raped to provide for the bureaucrat's warfare machine. Bock quotes Thomas Szasz as saying, "the American 'war on drugs' represents merely a new variation in humanity's age-old passion to 'purge' itself of its 'impurities' by staging vast dramas of scapegoat persecutions." 

Indeed, the trampling of individual rights will continue. Knowing how warped our government is in terms of its insidious war on drugs, don't expect to legally toke anytime soon, suffering or not.

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Karen De Coster, who lives in Michigan, is a business professional, freelance writer, and graduate student in economics. Send her MAIL and see her Daily Article Archive.