- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

Larry Katz stood in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building yesterday holding a grainy, black-and-white oversized photo of his stepson, Ian Eaccarino.
In the photo, Ian looks like a typical college student, smiling broadly and wearing a baseball cap. He overdosed on heroin at 20 and died in the family's Connecticut home in 1996.
Mr. Katz and his wife, Ginger, traveled to the high court to demonstrate against the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Mr. Katz, who holds a master's degree in nutrition, spoke bitterly about how marijuana, which Ian first tried at 14, started his stepson down a road to addiction and ultimately to death.
Terming the drug "medicine," Mr. Katz said, would be misleading. "It gives definitely the wrong message: 'It's medicine. It's good for you,' " he said.
Inside the building, the Supreme Court justices listened to arguments on whether marijuana can legally be prescribed to patients as a means for easing their pain.
The case, the United States vs. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, is rooted in California's 1996 decision to legalize the doctor-sanctioned possession and cultivation of cannabis for seriously ill patients.
Advocates of medical marijuana say the drug can ease side effects from chemotherapy, save nauseated AIDS patients from wasting away or even allow multiple sclerosis sufferers to rise from a wheelchair and walk.
Representatives of Drug-Free Kids: America's Challenge, who organized the demonstration yesterday, argue that marijuana and other illicit drugs lead to school violence, dropouts, early sexuality and teen-age pregnancy.
Although there is no definitive science on the drug's medicinal value, nine states have laws allowing the legal use of marijuana to treat a host of ailments.
Outside the court building, discussions between advocates and detractors of medical marijuana became contentious during the course of the morning.
Representatives of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project were outnumbered by a dozen people demonstrating against the drug, many of them parents who held placards with pictures of children lost to drug overdoses.
Karen Shreiner, a program analyst from Harrisburg, Pa., carried a poster-sized picture of a friend's daughter, Angela Smith, who died from a heroin overdose at 19.
She said Angela first started using marijuana at 14 and argued that the drug led to Angela's abuse of stronger drugs, despite several failed trips to treatment centers. She said Angela had several run-ins with the law before dying of an overdose in 1998.
"We just want to make people aware that marijuana is a steppingstone drug," Mrs. Shreiner said.
Yesterday's case marked the first time the justices have taken on the issue of legalizing marijuana.
"We believe it is lifesaving," said Gerald Uelmen, an attorney for the California-based cooperative.
A ruling for the Oakland club would allow special marijuana clubs to resume distributing the drug in California, which passed one of the nation's first medical marijuana laws.
A ruling for the federal government would not negate the California voter initiative but would effectively prevent clubs like Oakland's from distributing the drug openly.
The court's ruling is expected by the end of June.


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