Friday, April 20, 2007

Herbal Medicine vs. Comfort Food Politics

We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. You cannot educate a man wholly out of superstitious fears which were implanted in his imagination, no matter how utterly his reason may reject them. – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

My former Inactivist co-blogger, Jennifer Abel writes in the Hartford Advocate about Mark Braunstein, a college librarian whose injuries from a diving accident in 1990 resulted in partial paralysis below the waist. Braunstein makes no secret of his occasional non-medicinal use of marijuana in his youth, a fact common to many people of his generation, but since the accident he has found that marijuana is an effective treatment for his recurring leg spasms and pain. Unfortunately, such treatment is illegal.

Not that it would have any affect on federal law which does not recognize the medicinal use of marijuana, Connecticut is considering legislation, the Compassionate Use Act, that would make Braunstein’s use of marijuana legal at least under state law. However, at least one state legislator interviewed by Abel, Republican Toni Boucher, is an adamant opponent of the pending legislation. Before I quote from Abel’s interview with Boucher, here is the legislator’s official web page motto:

Listening to our fellow citizens and responding to their concerns with common sense solutions to protect individual freedoms and provide a better quality of life for all of Connecticut.

So why is Boucher opposed to legislation that would decriminalize what seems to be a common sense solution to Braunstein’s quality of life problems?
Boucher fears if the Compassionate Use Act passes, marijuana will make sick people sicker and snare children into self-destruction. That’s why, where medical marijuana is concerned, “there’s more harm than good in promoting it.”

And so it went: why should it be illegal for Braunstein to smoke? Because marijuana’s bad for you. So bad those who smoke it should go to jail? Yes, because it’s against the law. Why? Because it’s bad for you.

How long did Boucher think [Braunstein] should spend in prison?

There followed a long silence broken by Boucher’s response: “That’s a ludicrous question.... We’re not the judiciary.”
Given how easy it is to find federal officials willing at the drop of a hat to make fools of themselves, finding the same at the state level is almost unsportsmanlike. Still, Rep. Boucher’s mindset is deserving of the exposure here. Indeed, I have little doubt she represents the attitude of many of her constituents on this point, more’s the pity.

We can easily call attention to the folly of Boucher’s comments. She has no medical expertise, in fact it most certainly is the legislature’s business to decide which acts are to be crimes under the laws of her state and what the penalties for those crimes are to be, and the angle of incline of this particular slippery slope is equal to if not less than zero. Children will not be rushing to paralyze themselves so they can smoke pot legally.

But let’s give this slippery slope argument its due here and acknowledge that however sincere advocates of medical marijuana may be in their belief that it should be a medical option in some instances, their opponents are correct in surmising that legalizing marijuana use in such instances would also serve to undermine the general prohibition.

In that sense, they are equally situated atop the sort of precarious absolutism as that of abortion rights advocates whose reaction to Carhart suggests we are now mere days away from the return of back alley butchery.

It simply cannot be repeated often enough: politics is at least as much if not far, far more about what we fear and what we desire than what we think makes sense. Of course, no one knows anyone whose life has been damaged by smoking marijuana or crack cocaine, for that matter, to the extent that thousands of lives have been damaged by conviction and incarceration for same.

The reason this sort of “destroy the village in order to save it” logic makes no sense and yet is heard, one way or another, over and over again is because we are not, in fact, concerned about the lives of those other people. We are concerned about our own lives and those of our families and friends and collateral damage be damned as long as we believe ourselves to be safe and sound.

The sort of deep, visceral fear involved here is no more rational than the fear of a mother bear whose cubs one has accidentally and innocently approached. It is not only bereft of reason, it is immune to reason. It will not be swayed by mere facts. It is my young daughter frightened by thunderstorms, who cannot be comforted by reason but only by being held and told, over and over again, that she is safe now and will always be safe in the arms of her mother.

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