Letters to the Editor:Those Who Really Need Marijuana

The Wall Street Journal, November 17, 1997

By Sally Satel

In her Oct. 30 editorial-page commentary “Medical Marijuana: Research, Don’t Legalize,” Dr. Sally Satel implicitly asks for a moratorium on medical-marijuana initiatives until sufficient research has been done on the drug in “a carefully controlled, scientific setting.” While proponents of medical marijuana certainly encourage scientific study of cannabis, the reason ballot initiatives were used to legalize the use of medical marijuana in Arizona and California in l996 (several others are pending) is precisely because the federal government has not permitted any human studies in more than 15 years.

Meanwhile, there certainly has not been a moratorium on imprisoning medical-marijuana users. In Oklahoma last year arthritis sufferer Will Foster received a 93-year sentence on a first offense for growing his own supply of medical marijuana. In Merced, Calif., Mike Osborn currently faces 13 years for growing marijuana for seven AIDS and cancer patients. In Seattle, medical user Martin Martinez began serving a 90-day sentence for growing marijuana on the very day Dr. Satel’s opinion piece was printed. Thousands of other examples could be cited.

Dr. Satel writes, “And make no mistake: These initiatives . . . are stalking horses for outright legalization,” and then decries the fact that a doctor’s “oral recommendation” rather than a prescription would be all that’s needed to authorize medical marijuana use should the upcoming Washington, D.C., initiative pass. As a doctor, she certainly must be aware that a prescription cannot be written for a Schedule I drug — it would have no legal validity. Also, the “oral recommendation” she decries may be verified by law enforcement. It’s not the normal route, but it certainly is a legitimate attempt to make the best out of a sticky legal situation in which cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, but has been legalized for medical use on the state level, as in California.

People like me certainly are fighting for the general legalization of marijuana for adult use, but it’s depressing to imagine that Dr. Satel thinks that we would hide behind wheelchairs to achieve our goals. It was legalizers, after all, who rediscovered and promoted cannabis as medicine, because we recognized the healing capacity of the herb and wanted those who might benefit to be aware of its medicinal potential. And that potential may be greater than most people, even proponents, recognize. “In my view as a doctor,” suggests Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard, “I believe that this drug is ultimately going to be seen as a wonder drug on the order of penicillin, because of its inexpensive cost, its versatility and its extremely low toxicity.’

If Dr. Satel would call for a moratorium on arresting and imprisoning medical marijuana users while scientists perform the studies she calls for, I’m sure both outright legalizers and medical-marijuana-only proponents would gladly call a moratorium on ballot initiatives.

Peter Gorman
High Times Magazine
New York