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Heads of the class

As if Monday’s Iowa caucuses weren’t bad enough for former Vermont governor Howard Dean, now comes this: a score card created by Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana (GSMM) rates Dean’s position on medicinal marijuana as nearly comparable to those of President George W. Bush. Indeed, the Manchester, New Hampshire–based group gave Dean a D-, which barely squeaks by Bush’s grade of F. In response to questions put to candidates by GSMM, Dean has said that, if elected, he would halt Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids on terminally ill patients who use pot to ease their pain — a bare-minimum requirement for a "passing" grade from the advocacy group. Yet this supposedly liberal candidate has also said he’d deal with the issue of medical marijuana by ordering the federal government to study it further. Not the most progressive of stances, to say the least.

The highest grade went to Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich, who got an A+ from the GSMM for saying he supports medical marijuana "without reservation." Kucinich, who garnered one percent of the vote on Monday, has even vowed to sign an executive order permitting medicinal pot use on his first day in the White House. Clearly, as Aaron Houston, GSMM’s project coordinator puts it, "Kucinich exceeded all our expectations." Another A went to Carol Moseley Braun, who dropped out of the race last Thursday to endorse Dean. Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry earned a surprisingly high mark: an A-. That’s because Kerry not only supports federal medical-marijuana legislation, but also displayed what Houston calls "compassion" toward patients when he penned a November 2003 letter to the DEA urging it to allow the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to study the issue.

As for the remaining Democratic candidates, their placements ranged from the not-so-shabby to the downright embarrassing. Retired General Wesley Clark can take pride in a B+ for his unequivocal commitment to end the DEA raids, as can the Reverend Al Sharpton, who earned a B. But the same cannot be said of Senators John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, both of whom failed GSMM’s basic test — pledging to end the raids. (As did Congressman Dick Gephardt, who dropped out of the race Tuesday after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses.)

All in all, GSMM’s report card (available online at www.granitestaters.com) shows that the Democratic Party largely reflects the general public’s attitude when it comes to the issue of medical marijuana. After all, five of the seven remaining Democratic presidential hopefuls hold sympathetic positions about medical marijuana, while 84 percent of the New Hampshire electorate backs legislation legalizing its use. "The real story is that the Democrats understand voter sentiment," Houston says. And for those candidates who don’t? "We will continue to press the candidates to adopt compassionate positions toward seriously ill people," he vows.

Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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