Another Perspective

You Are Not Allowed to Feel Better … Got It?

Who crowned John Walters drug czar?

By 6.8.05

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According to John Walters, the Supreme Court got it right on medical marijuana. His argument comes down, essentially, to saying that medical marijuana doesn't work, and should be illegal, even if it does make some people "feel better," a phrase which Mr. Walter puts, condescendingly, inside quotes. As though feeling better when one is sick is somehow no big deal and a vaguely tawdry aspiration.

Mr. Walters is the nation's "Drug Czar," a hideously ugly title that any American should be ashamed to hold. In this role, Mr. Walters co-ordinates -- or something -- the government's $35 billion anti-drug effort. Plainly, this crusade is not working and, so, according to Mr. Walters's own logic ought to be put out of its misery.

This, of course, will not happen. Mr. Walters will continue to spend lavishly to make citizens behave the way he -- and a few thousand agents and bureaucrats -- believe they ought to. This is not surprising. It is what people who nurse governmental aspirations do ... they rule. And they believe that because they rule, they know best. "We have a responsibility as a civilized society to ensure that the medicine Americans receive from their doctors is effective, safe, and free from the pro-drug politics that are being promoted in American under the guise of medicine."

No room for individual choice, here. Mr. Walters and the government -- this is the "we" he is talking about -- have the responsibility. You? Well, you have the duty to do as they say. And if you don't, they will put you in jail.

No acknowledgement from Mr. Walters that the government ("we") might just have it wrong. Even though these are the same guys who subsidized tobacco and came up with the preposterous "food pyramid" that contributed to the nation's obesity problem. But these are trivial errors when compared to the monstrous, grievous, criminal blunder that Mr. Walter oversees -- namely the federal government's drug policy.

You would think a man with $35 billion to spend would have more important things on his agenda than doing an end-zone dance over the bodies of a few cancer patients looking for a little relief from the side-effects of chemo. What did Mark Tucci, who lives down the road from me, ever do to Mr. Walters to make him gleeful that Tucci now cannot legally use a drug that makes him "feel better." Tucci has MS and says of medial marijuana, "It is by far the most benign thing I've pumped into my body. It just gets rid of a lot of pain. It makes my life bearable."

Not so fast there, Tucci. Your government has a better idea and if you know what's good for you...

IT COMES AS NO BIG SHOCK that the Feds are busy beating up on little guys. It is what they do and -- increasingly and sadly -- what we let them do. Nor, one must ruefully conclude, is the decision of the Supreme Court that much of a surprise. The Court (note the caps; capitalization reveals a lot) approached the case not on the issue of whether individuals ought to be free to medicate themselves. Instead, the case came down to a question of interstate commerce. Preposterous, maybe, but the Supremes took it seriously and ruled, 6-3, that states could not allow the cultivation and consumption, strictly inside state borders, of marijuana, even when its use had been prescribed by a doctor. Somehow, in the view of two-thirds of the Court, the weed would be involved in "interstate commerce," and so, constitutionally, Federal authority trumps the will of the state voters.

As usual. Back in the '30s the Court ruled that farmers who grew wheat on their own property and ate it at their own dinner table were not exempt from federal regulation under the interstate commerce clause. Which just about sewed it up for the Feds.

But if this week's ruling was no surprise, there was some bracing language in the dissent of every civil libertarian's least favorite justice -- Clarence Thomas. "If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything," Thomas wrote. "...the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers and may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50 states."

Six other justices -- including those notable defenders of individual rights, Stephen Bryer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- were okay with that. So, for opaquely legalistic reasons, was Antonin Scalia. Justice John Paul Stevens held out the feeble hope that the whole thing "may one day be heard in the halls of Congress."

But, Mr. Justice, why does the state of California need the permission of the U.S. Congress to allow its citizens to do what they have said at the ballot box they want to be allowed to do inside their own borders? Why do the John Walters of the world always get to push the rest of us around?

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About the Author

Geoffrey Norman is the author of Riding With Jeb Stuart and the editor of Vermonttiger.com.