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Less compassion and a little more respect

Less compassion and a little more respect

Jim Peron

The following is provided as a service by the Institute for Liberal Values and is available for free use provided appropriate credit is given.

Less compassion and more respect, please By Jim Peron

For Greg Soar, the use of cannabis is not a "lifestyle" choice, nor is it driven by a desire to get high. It's a necessity.

Living with AIDS is not easy. Just ask him. Many of the medicines necessary to keep this deadly disease under control cause nausea. This creates two distinct problems: firstly, the nausea can mean that one vomits up the medicines before they can work their way into the system, and secondly, one's appetite is destroyed - and eating is very important, especially when seriously ill like this. The use of medicinal cannabis solves both of these problems.

And that is one reason that Soar wrote to United Future leader Peter Dunne.

In March Soar with United Future MP Paul Adams. According to Soar, he told Adams that medicinal marijuana is a life or death issue. Adams allegedly responded with, "Don't be so dramatic - there are other things you can use."

Ever since then, Soar says he's been trying to find out what "other things" Adams had in mind. But the MP appears reluctant to answer.

Is the medicinal use of cannabis really a life or death issue as Soar contends? Take the case of Peter McWilliams as an example.

McWilliams has authored numerous best selling books. He was both a successful publisher and author. His book on the absurdity of consensual crimes, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, was flying off the shelves. He had endorsements for it from Sting, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Milton Friedman, and Larry King, to name just a few.

But there was a dark cloud on his horizon ­ or two, as it turned out. He had cancer. And he had AIDS. Eventually, he beat cancer but AIDS is a more persistent opponent.

Like so many others had found, the anti-viral drugs he took caused him nausea; in his case, it was about one-third of the time. And when this happened, he couldn't eat and he couldn't keep the medicines down. McWilliams tried smoking cannabis as a means of controlling the problem. It worked.

He also started researching the issue of medicinal cannabis, and writing a book on it. He paid an advance to another author to write a book on how to grow medicinal cannabis. In California, where he lived, voters had just passed an initiative legalising the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, and he felt the book would be a public service.

But federal drug agents burst into his home, arguing that the laws of the federal government now take precedent over state law - a claim that would horrify America's founding fathers. McWilliams was arrested, and the manuscript was confiscated.

At trial, Judge George King issued an order forbidding McWilliams from telling the jury that voters in California had legalised medicinal cannabis. He also said that the sick man couldn't tell the jurors why he used cannabis. Stripped of his legal defence, he had few choices.

The arrest bankrupted his publishing business. To secure bail, his family put up their homes. To make the point that the drug war was centralising all power in the federal government, the judge ordered McWilliams to cease using cannabis while on bail, as well as ordering regular urine testing to make sure that this decree was followed.

McWilliams was horrified that his family could lose their homes, so he obeyed the judge. His viral load skyrocketed. He took legal drugs that were supposed to help with nausea, but they did not work. He was bankrupt, wheelchair bound, and losing his battle with the disease - all because of prohibitionist policies that seem to make things worse at all levels.

Natalie Fisher helped McWilliams around the house. Stripped of cannabis use, the successful and vibrant author was an invalid and needed her. When Fisher entered his home on a certain June morning it was all too quiet. She found him lying on the floor of his toilet. The nausea had gotten worse, the legal drugs weren't working, and unable to control the nausea, McWilliams had vomited repeatedly. His throat had become blocked with vomit, and he had choked to death. The war on cannabis had claimed another victim - this one, his throat clogged, dying alone on a toilet floor.

The prosecutors who bankrupted him and insisted that he be stripped of the legal right to use cannabis merely said that they were 'saddened' by his death. Conservative columnist William F. Buckley, who knew McWilliams, said that many were also saddened by this death 'and the causes of it.' As he wrote, after telling his readers of the spirit of McWilliams, "Imagine such a spirit ending its life at 50, just because they wouldn't let him have a toke."

Medicinal cannabis is a serious issue. It is a life or death issue. And that's what caused Soar to write to Peter Dunne. He wanted either an answer from Adams as to what drugs would work, or an apology. Dunne's response, sent to Soar and all United Future MPs, was brief, "This garbage is not worth replying to."

All too often, politicians throw about the word compassion. The religious Right will argue that compassion requires stripping the individual of choice. It means that women can't choose prostitution, that the terminally ill can't end their own suffering by ending their lives, that people can't read dirty books, or use cannabis when ill. Compassion is also the excuse now used by the Left to wage war on smokers.

Yet it seems that what we need in Wellington is a little less compassion and a little more respect. We need respect for the rights of people to make their own choices, good or bad as they might be. More respect and a bit less 'compassion' could make this nation a better place to live. It would have saved the life of Peter McWilliams and it could save the life of Greg Soar as well.

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