As the son of immigrants, I grew up hearing ugly stories about the
old country. They made me a patriotic lover of the Stars and Stripes like
my parents, even as they knew our beloved country was less than perfect.
As an adolescent, the nature of our World War II enemies added in
intensity to the excited tingle I had always felt when I saw our flag.
Of course, I enlisted after my 17th birthday. Flags and tingles were
common in the military. After the war I saw the flags less, but never
without the tingle. Until the 1970s, which is when my country forced me
to break the law to do the right thing.
Chemotherapy saved my daughter's life. But it was accompanied by lots
of vomiting, which could be decreased by inhaling marijuana. This was
years before today's legal availability of the pill form of marijuana's
active substance, Marinol. So, I did the right thing and broke the law. I
got Susie marijuana. And I have never felt that tingle from seeing the
Some might argue that I should have obeyed the law and let her
tolerate the disagreeable side effects of her treatment. I disagreed then
and I still do today.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Marinol has two problems. First, it
is expensive and second, it has a slow rate of absorption into the body.
The gastrointestinal tract is a lot slower than the weed's rapid
absorption through the lungs. That slow absorption of the pill means that
those with chronic diseases who had inhaled the weed for nausea and
diminished appetite before the pill was available may find Marinol to be
Indeed, if the Supreme Court justices who are considering the legality
of California's medical marijuana law walked through a hospital's
chemotherapy unit today, they would smell odors that document that even
those recently diagnosed with cancer find inhalation of the weed to be
Of course, the weed is expensive, but that's only because it's
illegal. If it were legalized and classified with restricted medicines
like morphine and cocaine, it would be dirt cheap--literally costing
little more than the dirt in which it was grown. And it would be better
quality and safer than the expensive illegal weed. And our jails would be
Shouldn't the Supreme Court consider those human truths while
inspecting federal and state laws? If they feel obliged to designate
cancer sufferers and their caretakers as criminals, I pray the justices
append advice about answering children's inevitable question: Why is
medical marijuana illegal while addictive and potentially lethal tobacco
is OK if you are old enough?
Will I ever feel that Stars and Stripes tingle again?
Saul Issac Harrison, of Pacific Palisades, is a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan College of Medicine and an adjunct professor at UCLA.
Copyright © 2001 Los Angeles Times