The debate over morality and the law is one familiar to any law student. Every 1L is taught the difference between malum in se and malum prohibitum crimes. The former are crimes that are evil (murder), the latter are crimes that are wrong because the government says so (gambling, pot, expired registration etc).
A recent blawg debate asked “Is it immoral to break the law?” To any person who isn’t paid to convict the answer is an obvious no. Laws are written by politicians, not exactly the moral arbiters of our time. Only the most tortured definition of morality would include “anything the majority passes a law against.”
What is not often discussed is the morality of enforcing the law. When is it morally wrong to arrest and prosecute someone for illegal behavior? Prosecutorial apologists would argue that laws represent the morality of the majority and therefore the enforcement can’t be immoral.
Let me beg to differ. There is a great chasm between the prosecution of consensual crimes and morality. The best (or worst) example is the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana patients.
Each government actor is culpable, from the LEO who arrests the infirm, to the prosecutor who files charges. I’ve seen this cruelty first hand. This isn’t a morally neutral situation, it’s wrong.
Fortunately, Texans are challenging our government’s ignorance and hubris. One such organization is the Texas Coalition for Compassionate Care.
Here is a Q and A withTCCC director Stephen Betzen.
Stephen Betzen Director.
My degree in in Marine science from Texas A&M University. After graduating I spent one year as an investigator of environmental crimes in Harris County. I went on to teach science for 4 years in HISD. In 2004 I moved to Dallas and started 2 businesses Faircoffee.com and Ecowindchimes.com which did great till last fall. Though still running these businesses I am looking for a job to supplement my income.
More important to me is how I got involved in the Medical Marijuana movement. Though I never opposed medical marijuana, because I have always believed that doctors should be able to treat their patients and not the government… I did not truly believe in it 5 years ago. In fact I said some things that I regret to this day. My change in prospective came as I watched my wife slowly suffer from an unknown illness. Chronic neuropathic pain and spasming in her muscles became a daily problem and were getting worse. We were going through test after test to find the problem with suspicions of MS, fibromyalgia and others… all eventually ruled out. Doctors had prescribed her opiate medications to address the pain, however she stopped using them because that caused so many problems. The strong opiates and muscle relaxers prescribed were addictive and impaired her cognitive functioning, essentially making her lose touch with reality. Since she was unable to work while on these drugs, she had to stop as she owned her own speech therapy practice and had to keep it running. At this point we were in a very dark place in our lives and had lost almost all of our hope when someone who saw her suffering, an angel, placed a package on our porch containing 2 sandwich bags of marijuana and a letter explaining that she should try it to relieve her suffering.
The results were not at all like I had suspected, rather than looking/acting drugged she didn’t miss one day of work and she was still able to function cognitively in order to perform her duties as a speech therapist. I continued to research it and found that medical science is reporting the same results with few side-effects. It made me angry to discover how distorted my previous views were.
I can not explain to you in words the pain for hearing the one you love most, cry every morning. I can not explain the joy of finding the medicine that worked and improved her quality of life in measurable ways. I can not explain the frustration of knowing that to treat my wife and improve her quality of life, I must break the law.
The following year (2007) I joined Texans for Medical Marijuana in their efforts. Unfortunately they shut their doors that summer, and I felt that we needed to move forward. I contacted other patients, caretakers and advocates and found that they also felt the loss of this organization. So we started the Texas Coalition for Compassionate Care and started the search for a non-profit to handle our funds (I still don’t know the technical term for this, I have heard so many)… not only did the Dallas Peace Center agree to handle our funds… but they took us and our mission in completely, so we are technically a committee (and this is better financially for us).
2. What are TCCC’s goals for this legislative session? What bills are you promoting?
We are focusing our efforts on affirmative defense for patients and protecting doctors, which is exactly what HB164 does. We will work on having a senate companion bill filed. The goal this session is to have this bill pass and become law.
3. Tell us about our fellow Texans who are medical marijuana patients.
Texas is a huge state, we have medical marijuana patients from all walks of life and political affiliations. Some are Ex-police officers and many are veterans dealing with the mental and physical scars of war. The most common conditions, from who has contacted me, are MS, AIDS and Cancer patients and many are using it to combat chronic pain and nausea. Regardless of the condition most are afraid. They are afraid of the police, afraid of thieves breaking into their home and taking their medicine, and they are concerned about the quality of their medicine from the streets. It is really hard for me to characterize patients as a whole… they are us, our next door neighbors, our grandparents, our friends, our loved ones, our church parishioners. Every time I think of a generalization to describe “them” I can think of exceptions. The put it succinctly, they are Texans.
4. Texas has backwards outdated marijuana laws and a tradition of mass incarceration. How will you convince Texas politicians to support medical marijuana?
You know more about the marijuana laws and incarceration than I do. Though the fear of our current marijuana laws is a major concern for medical marijuana patients today, our only goal and focus is to remove the sick and dieing from the battlefield of the war on drugs.
Our focus is in our name, a coalition for compassion. We are reaching out to churches, religious and civic organizations to ask that they sign on to our statement of compassion. We will also create a petition for individuals, but don’t have it yet. We have an e-mail newsletter now and the signup is on our site, we will be asking individuals to take action in their districts and direct the focus of our calls and letters there. A staffer for one of the politicans I have spoken with said “you can bring doctors, but they only see patients a few times a year… if you want to win this you need to bring us ministers, they see the constituents once a week”. Support among churches is strong at the national level, so we need to reach out and ask the ministers to join us, ask the churches to join us, ask the patient advocacy groups to join us, and the doctors too.
I do not believe that our biggest hurdle is convincing Texas politicians that marijuana has medical value but rather that it has support. It is common for me to hear people say or imply that Texas is going to be hard or impossible… I often hear “too bad this is Texas”. This perception is common among our politicians as well. I have lived in Texas my whole life and it may be conservative, but the people here are compassionate and caring. 75 percent when polled in 2004 supported medical marijuana and not one demographic polled at less than 62% supporting medical marijuana (republicans were at 67%). We have already won, we just need to be willing to claim it. Patients in Texas are not suffering because people here lack compassion… they suffer because compassionate people assume Texas has none.
5. What can readers do to help?
1) Join our mailing list. We will be communicating and coordinating our efforts there.
2) Put our Action alerts RSS feed on their sites and do the actions
3) Link to us, tell your friends, mention us in forums, blogs etc… let people know that we will win this, but we need them to speak up.
4) Contribute money so we can have the resources to give educational presentations to organizations and churches around the state.
Right now there are three Actions we are asking people to take on our action alert page. http://www.texascompassion.com/action-alerts.html
1)Contact Senator Royce West’s office and ask him to introduce a companion bill in the Texas Senate (to HB164).
The Honorable Royce West
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
(512) 463-0299 fax
Background: Senator West is a senator representing much of Dallas. We know that at least 3 of the precincts within his district voted for medical marijuana resolutions at the democratic caucuses last spring (the most well attended cauces’s in Texas history). Furthermore the same resolution passed the resolutions committee unamiously at the district level. Not only is there strong support for medical marijuana in Texas (75%) there is strong support in his district.
We know that Senator West is a thoughtful and respected senator. Please call and write to let him know that this is an important issue for many suffering Texans and that you request that he introduce a companion bill in the Texas Senate to protect doctors and give patients the right to defend themselves in court.
2) Contact the two Coauthors of the bill (then HB 1534… now HB164) in the last session, Representatives Garnet Coleman and Jim Jackson, and thank them for their support last session and ask them to sign on as an coauthor of HB 164 this session.
Representative Jim Jackson
Room E1.402, Capitol Extension
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 463-1044 Fax
Background: In the conservative tradition of the bills original author(Terry Keel), Jim Jackson signed on last session as a coauthor of the bill. Further demonstrating compassion is a conservative value and a bipartisan value. Giving the sick and dieing the right to defend themselves in court and protecting the professional decisions and opinions of doctors make house bill 164 common sense legislation for all.
Representative Garnet Coleman
Room GW.17, Capitol Building
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 463-1260 Fax
Background: Garnet Colman signed on as a coauthor of the bill last session recognizing that this bill offers due process to patients and protects doctors professional opinions. After the bill was refused a hearing he participated in an effort with Naishtat on the house floor to add the bills language to another bill. We need his continued support to protect patients and doctors.
3)Print the Sign on “Statement of Compassion” and give this to ministers, churches and civic organizations and ask them to sign. Send them to the address at the bottom of the statement.
Background: This is the same statement that religious organizations at the national level have already signed on to. It also happens to be the same statement that passed in the Texas Nurses Association, and many other health care organizations. It is a simple statement of support for doctors to be able to use their professional knowledge to recommend marijuana when needed… and for patients to be able to follow that recommendation with fear.