Drug War (Un)Justice
Editorial: Crimes and Minor Accidents
Two legal matters in recent weeks bring into focus a gaping double standard in the conduct of drug warriors. On the one hand, a drug czar is sued by advocates for "crimes against the taxpayers" (see "Walters On Trial"), illegally using taxpayer dollars to campaign against a ballot initiative. On the other, a good doctor who spent six months in jail for a crime that never happened is exonerated, the prosecutors and biased witnesses against him soundly repudiated by a thoughtful jury -- but still goes to prison for a minor technical violation that any doctor could have made by mistake and many have and do.
US drug czar John Walters toured the country, on the public dime, to campaign against drug reform initiatives such as Nevada's Question 9 and Ohio's Issue One and Arizona's Prop. 203, and to network and strategize with opponents of the initiatives--violations of the Hatch Act, which forbids the use of government time or money for lobbying or electioneering. This week the Marijuana Policy Project announced a forthcoming lawsuit seeking to have Walters removed from office for those violations.
Dr. Robert Weitzel, a physician who provided quality and compassionate care for dying elderly patients, was acquitted by a jury who only needed 90 minutes to confirm their strong impressions from the trial. "There was no question in any of the people's minds that he was not guilty," juror Paul Robert Wigren told the Deseret News. An evident lack of evidence had left Wigren and others wondering throughout the trial, "Why are we here?" Juror Reid Alan Robinson told the News that the state's experts, while credible, "seemed to be emotionally invested in a decision against Dr. Weitzel" and were "generally lacking in the academic, professional and publishing credentials that specifically applied to this case." Defense witnesses, on the other hand, were "experts who had conducted studies and written scholarly articles and books about treating the elderly, pain management and end-of-life care," Robinson said.
Weitzel, a victim of the drug war, will never be compensated for the financial ruin, loss of freedom and damaged reputation he suffered in his attempted lynching at the hands of corrupt prosecutors. Adding injury to injury, he will be soon be incarcerated again, for misplacing a trivial amount of morphine and not filling out the proper paperwork to document it.
Walters, a chief victimizer in the drug war, will never go to jail for his crimes, though those crimes may have influenced policies affecting tens of millions of Americans. In the meantime, Walters is free to go his merry way and even continue to lead national drug policy promoting criminal punishment of others.
Weitzel intends on release to seek employment in prison psychiatry and prison hospice care. His work will help relieve some of the suffering caused by policies promulgated by Walters and his ilk.
But there is only so much that can be done in the face of the drug war, and more good pain doctors, like Frank Fisher and Bill Hurwitz, continue to struggle against the mendacity of the drug war devils. So long as the John Walters' of the world continue to run loose and uncontrolled at the reins of government power, doctors, patients and guiltless or harmless Americans of all kinds will live under threat. The drug war double standard must be stopped.