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Governor Does The Right Thing

By Jim Belshaw
Of the Journal
    Gov. Bill Richardson on Thursday said he would sign a bill legalizing medical marijuana. Good for him.
    The governor said, "Is it risky? So what if it is risky? It's the right thing to do."
    Good for him again. It is indeed the right thing to do.
    Speaking of the small number of people affected by the bill, the governor said, "What we are talking about is 160 people in deep pain, and it only affects them."
    Media bias transparency disclaimer: I know a little something about pain. I am biased against it. My media slant always opposes needless pain.
    I am not in the dire straits of the 160 people to whom the governor refers, but I know about daily, chronic pain. I know how it becomes like an odd appendage you've grown, a kind of kudzu creeping into everything you do.
    It's been around every day for years, ever since an old back injury decided to up the ante. Three months ago, I was the star attraction at a 10-hour back surgery. (Try to avoid it if you can. It's not nearly as much fun as you might think.)
    But I did get to spend almost a week talking to nurses and doctors about pain. Everyone of them said over and over: "Don't let it get on top of you. Stay ahead of it."
    Then two days ago, a woman I know said her husband has lived with chronic pain for many years. She said the pain made for some hard days between them, creeping into every moment of their lives, changing the way they looked at one another.
    Only days before that, a federal court in San Francisco ruled that a terminally ill woman using marijuana was not protected against federal prosecution on marijuana charges just because she was dying from an inoperable brain tumor and lived every day in agonizing pain.
    I saw a picture of her. She wept at the court's ruling. She is 41, but she looks much older and frail and weak.
    The justices said they had seen "uncontroverted evidence" that she needed marijuana to survive. But no dice.
    Sorry about the excruciating pain. Sorry about the brain tumor. Sorry about the dying and all. It's the law, you see.
    What was it the legal scholar Mr. Bumble said in "Oliver Twist:" "If the law supposes that, the law is a ass— a idiot. If that's the eye of the law ... the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience— by experience."
    So when Bill Richardson says, "It's the right thing to do," I say yes, it is, even if a politician uttering such words tends to set off alarms and nervous glances over the shoulder.
    He said he would catch grief for signing the bill and he will.
    Journal reporters Jeff Jones and Trip Jennings had no trouble finding grief givers— the director of George Bush's National Drug Control Policy, the executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the New Mexico Sheriff's and Police Association, the Drug Enforcement Administration, whose local spokeswoman said: "We don't differentiate between medical marijuana and marijuana, because (all marijuana) is illegal under federal law."
    The weeping, dying California woman drifts into view, the one who looks so old so long before her time. I try to imagine the DEA coming to arrest her. I wonder if she'll be strong enough to do the perp walk or if they'll have to carry her.
    I don't smoke marijuana. I don't need it to make my day a little less painful. But I do use legal, prescription dope to get through the day, the same legal, prescription dope frequently abused by no small number of people, at least one of them quite famous. I'm glad it's there for me to use.
    When Bill Richardson spoke of signing the medical marijuana bill, he repeated his opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana use.
    "It's just medical marijuana. It's not decriminalizing. I've got a very strong record there," he said. "My God, let's be reasonable."
    There's another first-rate idea. Good for him.

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