Are We Getting Close to Legalizing Pot?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," July 7, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight: The drive to legalize marijuana. In Oregon, a ballot measured this week would allow patients to possess six pounds of pot — that's nearly two shopping carts full — if a health practitioner, not a doctor, said it was OK. That's pretty much legalization if even a shaman could grant permission for you to toke in Oregon.

In Congress, a House bill that would disallow any federal prosecution of medical marijuana cases anywhere will likely be voted down — the feds taking a hard line against what many see as a ruse. Joining us now from Washington is Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason (search) magazine, a Libertarian publication, and Dr. Andrea Barthwell, the nation's Deputy "Drug Czar."

So Oregon, Doctor, I mean, this is, you know, any health practitioner. So you're a shaman (search) from the Amazon and you set up shop. Come on, I mean, everybody knows this is a ruse. Am I wrong?

ANDREA BARTHWELL, MD: No, you're absolutely right, Bill. This is what we've been trying to make clear to people when they have these proposals presented to them. This is not about getting medicine to people who are sick and dying. This is about making marijuana legal.

And the way in which it's written, such that a person could have six pounds, as you say, enough to fill a shopping cart...


BARTHWELL: Two shopping carts, really. It allows a person so much marijuana that they could supply a whole community of schoolchildren with enough marijuana...

O'REILLY: Yeah, absolutely.

BARTHWELL: ... to keep them intoxicated for days at a time.

O'REILLY: Right. There's no question this is a ruse. But there is a legitimate issue here, Doctor. We had Montel Williams on a few weeks back. He has MS. And I believe Montel Williams when he says, "Look, medical marijuana helps me, helps me cope with this disease, cope with my suffering. There's no reason why I should be denied it." And I agree with Montel Williams that if this is the case, if a doctor — a doctor — says that he needs it for his MS, he should have it. You don't disagree with that, do you?

BARTHWELL: Well, I do, actually. There is nothing that tells us from the science now that smoked, crude botanical should be a medication. We have a process that has been in place for 100 years in this country that protects the sick and dying from snake oil salesmen. And just because something makes you feel better doesn't make it medicine.

O'REILLY: Yeah, but you're dealing with theory and I want to deal with reality. And we'll get to you, Mr. Gillespie, in a moment. Montel Williams (search) believes, because he actively smokes marijuana, that it helps his MS. See, and I'm saying to myself, if we're going to err here — and he believes it and it helps him — let him have it. It's not hurting society.

BARTHWELL: Well, it actually does hurt society. It undermines rather than under-girds our prevention efforts when we have a very mixed message out there to young people about marijuana. In addition to that, it undermines the practice of medicine in this country.

We develop, the FDA, a process of bringing medications to the marketplace, because snake oil salesmen peddled products to people at the turn of the century that made them feel better.

O'REILLY: All right.

BARTHWELL: No one would argue that cocaine would make him feel better. Are we trying to make that medicine too?

O'REILLY: No, no, no. But cocaine is a different — cocaine is a much, much, much stronger drug than marijuana is. And I don't think you could make the comparison.

BARTHWELL: Well, no one would argue that smoking a cigarette makes someone feel better, and we don't have people peddling nicotine.

O'REILLY: All right. Let me get to Mr. Gillespie.

NICK GILLESPIE, EDITOR, REASON MAGAZINE: Well, actually, we do have people peddling nicotine, and I suppose the drug tsar wants to ban cigarettes as well. But the real point here is not about legalizing drugs. Medical marijuana initiatives are not stock courses for legalization.

It's pretty clear in the Oregon initiative, which will be voted on in the fall, that nothing changes in the criminal code for non-medicinal use of marijuana. And Bill, you can make fun of licensed practitioners. Those are the people who are cited in this initiative, and that includes shamans and naturopaths, but these are people who are licensed in this state anyway.

O'REILLY: Come on, Mr. Gillespie. No spin zone.

GILLESPIE: If I could finish.

O'REILLY: You can't finish, because what you're saying is ridiculous. This is an outright ruse by the State of Oregon, a very liberal legislature, as you may know, all right, to give anybody — anybody — the right to write a prescription so somebody can have six pounds.

GILLESPIE: No, that's not true.

O'REILLY: I've got a headache, I can get six pounds. It's ridiculous.

GILLESPIE: First off, that isn't true.

O'REILLY: Yes, it is.

GILLESPIE: OK. And if you're worried about accountability, and if the drug tsar's office is worried about accountability, this actually creates a paper chain, because you have to file and you have to document all of the pot that you're giving out, who you're giving it out to. You have to register as a primary care person and a helper for people. So it actually puts a lot of controls on the dissemination of marijuana.

O'REILLY: Mr. Gillespie, come on.

GILLESPIE: The larger point, Bill — Bill, the larger point, and it's one that you were making, this is a humanitarian law, and this is one of the reasons why nine states, including Oregon, which already has medical marijuana, this is why nine states have voted these laws in.

O'REILLY: So if they already had it, why do they need six pounds of it? You know why.

GILLESPIE: It helps people, it helps people — yeah, you know why. It's because...

O'REILLY: You know why.

GILLESPIE: Yeah, I hear it, can I tell you...

O'REILLY: It's quasi legalization, and it's wrong.

GILLESPIE: No, no, Bill, it is not about legalization. I wish that it were. I support legalization of drugs. This is not about that. What it is is that people who are sick, people like Montel Williams, people with AIDS-wasting-syndrome have trouble growing their own pot or maintaining a stable, secure supply.

O'REILLY: You can go, like everybody else with every other disease...

GILLESPIE: No, you can't...

O'REILLY: ... to the pharmacy and get it.

GILLESPIE: Bill, Bill, you can't.

O'REILLY: All right, Mr. Gillespie, you've had your say.

GILLESPIE: CVS and Rite Aid aren't selling pot. What this would help — it would help create California-like cannabis clubs.

O'REILLY: What this would do, Mr. Gillespie, is create another generation of drug dealers, who get six pounds of marijuana from a phony shaman and open up and do business.

GILLESPIE: Bill, Bill...

O'REILLY: Mr. Gillespie, I'm going to cut your mike now, because you've had your say. And with all due respect, I have to go back to the Doctor, who was invited on this program as well, all right?

Now, Doctor, Marinol is a pill, all right, that has active ingredient from — you don't oppose Marinol, do you?

BARTHWELL: Absolutely, not. And it's a pill and a suppository, so it can be given to people who are vomiting. And it is, in fact, the molecule that is the active ingredient in marijuana that's been extracted in the way that we do from willow bark to make aspirin, and from opium to make all the pain medication...

O'REILLY: If you're OK with Marinol, Doctor, then I don't understand the difference that, if it's more immediate relief, as Montel Williams says, why you're objecting to that. If it's tightly regulated and you OK Marinol, then why not just OK this? I'll give you the last word.

BARTHWELL: Well, we have a process in which we bring medications to the marketplace that protects the public health. And Marinol has met the standards of medicine in this country. And it's not an issue of rapid onset. And, in fact, this direction that they're going in, Oregon, really reveals what we know is going on here, which is to legalize marijuana.

O'REILLY: I agree with you.

BARTHWELL: It allows an individual who has six pounds to then find the medical excuse after the fact and be fined only $500.

O'REILLY: OK, I've got to go, guys.

GILLESPIE: Bill, would you be OK with a pound? Would you be OK with one pound, Bill?

O'REILLY: No, I wouldn't, unless it was a doctor doing it, not a shaman.

GILLESPIE: OK, so it has to be a medical doctor.

O'REILLY: Correct, a medical doctor with a degree.

GILLESPIE: All right, but you agree that medical marijuana makes sense and is a legitimate choice.

O'REILLY: For Montel Williams and people like that.


O'REILLY: Doctor and Mr. Gillespie, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

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