Debating Medical Marijuana

Dec 04, 2008

drug czar, drug warrior, ONDCP, science

Last night I had the opportunity to debate medical marijuana policy with the White House drug czar's chief counsel, Ed Jurith. Scott Morgan of did a great job covering the event.

Nobody expected a drug czar official to get up on stage, slap his forehead and say, "Oh, you're right, arresting patients for using a safe, effective drug recommended by their doctors is shameful and immoral." Still, I thought there were signs in the debate that there could be some common ground somewhere. Or at least the possibility of civil discussion.

Mr. Jurith – who served as acting drug czar before John Walters' appointment – is certainly a drug warrior, but he's also a career bureaucrat, not a political appointee like his boss.

Considering that Walters will soon be gone (wait for applause), I thought it was appropriate for a senior career government guy like Jurith to represent his office's position. I also couldn't help but notice how different it was interacting with him over marijuana policy rather than his boss.

Unlike the drug czar, Jurith didn't lie, bully, or accuse me of secretly trying to get children hooked on marijuana. His arguments at least had some basis in legal fact, although I believe they were far too narrow to justify denying seriously ill patients access to safe, effective medicine, let alone arresting them for it. But he was civil and thoughtful. I liked him.

Like Walters, Jurith is wrong on marijuana policy. But Walters is a zealot, and he's never shown much respect for the public he was supposed to serve.

But political guys like Walters come and go, and so do their personal crusades. I'd like to think that as our marijuana laws improve – and they are, right now – professional public servants like Jurith will know how to embrace and execute the people's will in good faith.

(By the way, I'd like to thank Ken Falcon, Georgetown Law School's Students for Sensible Drug Policy president, for the fantastic job he did setting this debate up.)