Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Author: Jeff McDonald, Union-Tribune Staff Writer
Published: November 21, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact: [email protected]
The nation's drug laws are more the result of media hype and politicians worried about re-election than credible science and good public policy, a noted constitutional law scholar said.
Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University law school professor who has represented numerous medical marijuana defendants and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the federal prohibition on marijuana makes very little sense.
"Every few years we have a drug crisis of one substance or another and Congress responds by criminalizing it or regulating its use." he said. "Before 1937, it was not even illegal to grow or possess marijuana."
Uelmen, who is perhaps best known for being a member of the "Dream Team" of lawyers that represented murder defendant O.J. Simpson, spoke to 200 students and marijuana activists at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law on Wednesday.
In 1970, when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act that classifies marijuana alongside heroin, cocaine and other dangerous drugs, legislators knew very little about its effects or medical benefits, Uelmen said.
The government set up a commission to study marijuana and the panel later recommended that the herb be decriminalized, but President Nixon was reluctant to embrace those findings, he said.
Nixon "promptly took the report, walked over to a trash can and publicly trashed it," Uelmen said. "It was too controversial."
He said marijuana relieves side effects of prescription medication for AIDS, cancer and other patients and stimulates their appetite so they can keep their weight up and fight disease.
The federal government maintains that there is no medical benefit to smoking marijuana. Drug-abuse prevention experts say the medical marijuana movement is really a way to legalize drugs.
Nonetheless, 58 percent of California voters in 1996 supported a measure that let patients grow and possess marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Eight other states have passed similar laws.
"Federal authorities suddenly realized they had a Whiskey Rebellion on their hands," said Uelmen, referring to a 1794 uprising by farmers opposed to a federal tax on whiskey.
Uelmen is awaiting a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over the legality of marijuana cooperatives – clubs that dispense marijuana to sick and dying patients under state law.
He argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court several years ago. The high court dismissed the so-called medical necessity defense but returned the case to the 9th Circuit to consider other issues.
"We're quite optimistic actually," he said.
The 90-minute discussion was hosted by the school's Society for Law and Medicine, a student group that examines medical issues relevant to the law. Students said they were impressed with Uelmen.
"It really has given me some insight into the argument over the use of medical marijuana," said Jennifer Rusnak, a first-year law student at Thomas Jefferson. "I'm thinking I would like to do more research to get the other side of the argument."
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