Cancer, Medical Marijuana, And A Personal Account

This page at the website of the National Cancer Institute, which describes some of the medicinal effects of cannabis and cannabinoids in cancer treatment regimes serves two salutary purposes for me today.

First, it confirms for me, yet again, that opposition to the War on Drugs and advocacy for the legalization of marijuana are A Good Thing[tm]. Indeed, knowing what we know about the War on Drugs and its implication in the mass incarceration monstrosity that stalks American life, opposition to the legalization of marijuana marks you as a, how you say, racist tool.

Second, in a kinder and gentler dimension, it reminds me of a great interaction with my mother three weeks before she passed away from a metastasized breast cancer (she had been in remission for four years before it returned.) On hearing from my brother that matters were not looking good for her as far as her treatment was concerned and that the ‘terminal stage’ was possibly around the corner, I had flown back from the US to the Indian Air Force station in Pune, India, where she was receiving treatment. (More precisely, she was being treated at the nearby Military  Hospital while staying with my brother on the air force base.) One day,  at home, between treatments, I was lying next to her on the bed she was resting on and chatting about sundry topics. At one point, as my mother described some of the pain and nausea that were now her lot, both before and after her chemotherapy treatments, I said to her, “You know mom, marijuana is supposed to be really helpful with that sort of thing. It reduces pain and helps combat nausea too.” My mother looked at me and said, “Have you tried it?” I replied, “Yeah mom, I’ve smoked it a few times.” She then leaned over, poked me in the ribs, and said, with a bit of a twinkle in her eyes, “Hey, we should go to that Osho Ashram [the central ‘offices’ of the organization affiliated with the Indian mystic and teacher Osho, which were located in Pune] and pick up some of that charas [hashish] they are always smoking.” We both collapsed in a fit of giggles. Honestly, if I had had the time, I would have scored some for her. In edible form, baked into fritters and consumed with tea, she would probably have been able to enjoy a great snack, and get some relief from her suffering too.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana has become legal in New York state, but unfortunately, it has been introduced with so many restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles that a) many sufferers from uncovered ailments will continue to not find relief and b) the state government will enable its own self-fulfilling prophecy that there is not enough demand for it. The folks in the New York state administration who have dreamed up this scheme stand indicted of the same charge I made above against those who oppose the legalization of marijuana with the additional knock of being indifferent to the sufferings of the sick.

The New York State Assembly is First Amendment-Illiterate

Earlier this morning, on both my Facebook and Twitter pages, I wondered aloud

Is the Empire State particularly hostile to academic freedom? Is it particularly illiterate about the First Amendment?

The reason for this slightly despairing query? Read this and despair for free speech:

The New York State Assembly is currently considering a bill (A.8392) to prohibit colleges and universities in New York State from using State funding to support employees’ participation in academic organizations that have supported boycotts against any nation or its universities. Colleges or universities that violate this act would lose all state funding. This bill (S.6438) has already passed the State Senate, with major support from both parties.   

If you’ve been reading the news at all recently, you know this is in retaliation for the following:

The executive body of the American Studies Association (ASA), the nation’s oldest and largest association of scholars of American culture and history…endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, calling them complicit in a “multi-tiered system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights.”….

The resolution to shun Israeli academic institutions was approved unanimously by the 20-member national council, which has urged the ASA’s 5,000 members to adopt it as policy.

Unsurprisingly, the ASA resolution has sparked a great deal of commentary. For instance, Cary Nelson–former president of the American Association of University Professors–wrote a critical response, and Corey Robin has written a series of posts defending it and the associated BDS movement.

So far, so good: academics make some speech, other academics respond with more speech. But then, along comes this bill. It’s problematic in several ways, as Michelle Goldberg points out:

But if the ASA boycott might violate academic freedom, the anti-boycott law definitely does. This is the state punishing scholars for taking a political stance. It’s almost certainly unconstitutional. As Dima Khalidi of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Solidarity Legal Support writes, “Courts have been very clear that the denial of funding, where motivated by a desire to suppress speech, is prohibited by the First Amendment.”

And it is likely to be counterproductive for very interesting reasons:

Beyond the First Amendment, the bill raises another, fascinating legal issue. It includes three exceptions: boycotting a country is OK when it’s designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, when the boycott is connected to a labor dispute, or “for the purpose of protesting unlawful discriminatory practices as determined by the laws, rules or regulations of this state.” Israel, of course, engages in a number of discriminatory practices towards the Palestinians that wouldn’t pass muster with New York civil rights law. That’s why it’s being boycotted in the first place! So while the law should be tossed in its entirety, a lawsuit focused just on the third point could be immensely clarifying, essentially putting the reality of the Occupation on trial. Were that to happen, New York State would have ended up doing the BDS movement a great favor.

Who would have standing to file a lawsuit challenging the law on the grounds Goldberg suggests? As an example, Corey Robin notes:

Any faculty member at CUNY who is denied travel money to the ASA — on the grounds that it is an organization that boycotts.

A First Amendment challenge to this bill is not going to be hard to make, and what is more, no judge that has read the US Constitution should let this bill stand.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

State legislature bills are not drafted by idiots; their drafting committees almost certainly include lawyers who presumably have taken the obligatory class on the US Constitution that is required of all first-year law students. Those drafters, and the bill’s supporters in the legislative houses, must know such a bill will not pass constitutional muster. Why then, do they attempt to pass such legislation?

The answer is dispiriting. To posture, to preen and strut and show off your allegiance to a political cause–not free speech!–, to rally the faithful, to pander to those who would care little for constitutional niceties that get in the way of their political objectives.

Seeking to impress such a constituency strikes me as a depressingly low political benchmark to set for oneself.