Tuesday, April 10, 2007

SUSAN SWARTZ: Judges send mixed smoke signals

You have to wonder what the judges were smoking. I’m referring to the federal court of appeals that ruled a sick mother of two from Oakland cannot use medical marijuana.Even though what she’s doing is legal under California law and even though her doctors say smoking marijuana is the only thing that motivates her to eat and deal with the pain from scoliosis, a brain tumor and endometriosis, the court says Angel Raich is a criminal in the eyes of the federal government.The government stands firm that marijuana is an illegal controlled substance with no medical value. The federal government doesn’t buy the argument that gravely ill people have the right to use marijuana when legal drugs fail.The government says there’s no scientific proof that ingesting or inhaling marijuana makes a difference to sick people. This is, of course, the same government that picks and chooses the scientific arguments it likes -- global warming being highly exaggerated and stem-cell research a plot to kill babies.This federal government would tell sick people to just pray and take a pill. This government believes if teenagers and other suggestible Americans ever saw Raich using marijuana, they, too, might want to acquire scoliosis, a brain tumor and endometriosis so they could get high and eat brownies.Meanwhile, the tobacco industry has been out looking for young women to sicken.There’s no lack of scientific proof that smoking tobacco can lead to lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and other miseries. But it’s still legal to grow and sell the stuff, even though finding a legal place to puff is becoming harder all the time.Because the tobacco industry is being squeezed -- not unlike the way someone with scoliosis, emphysema and a brain tumor must feel every day of her life -- the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has come up with a new cigarette for women called Camel No. 9.Clever marketing makes Camel No. 9 sound more like a fashion accessory than a cancer stick. The name suggests a connection to the perfume Chanel No. 9 or the song “Love Potion No. 9." The cigarettes, which come in a sexy package of basic black with fuchsia touches, is being advertised in fashion magazines and promoted at “Girls Night Out" events at nightclubs, though the Camel people insist no one under 21 is allowed in their parties.The tobacco industry has been hit hard by a drop in female smokers in recent years. Maybe women finally got the message that lung cancer kills more women than breast cancer. Or maybe they realized that those little smoking lines you get around your mouth never disappear.So of course there’s a desperate push to win the girls back. In a business story on the new cigarette, Wall Street analysts praised R.J. Reynolds for its successful marketing strategy.Now a British study has come out with a list of the most dangerous substances. Heroin is first. Tobacco is ninth. Marijuana is 11th.I wonder how many people who are dying because they or someone close to them smoked tobacco now use marijuana to lessen their pain. They, if no one else, see the absurdity of a society where pushing a drug that kills is business but using a drug that helps you live is a crime.Susan Swartz is a columnist for The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif.

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