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Don't be cruel


As Montel Williams waited his turn to speak at a state Capitol rally for medical marijuana, he noticed leading opponents of the proposal, Jerry Cox and Larry Page, were in attendance, and carrying on private conversations while supporters of the act testified to the terrible suffering they and members of their families had endured because they couldn't legally obtain marijuana, the only substance that gave relief. That opponents wouldn't even listen to the other side, Williams found appalling. He'd never seen such callousness, he said. "Aren't we supposed to be a compassionate nation?"

If the talk-show host came to Arkansas more often, he'd know that compassion is the furthest thing from the minds of the religious zealots who follow Cox and Page. "We're going to shove our religion down your throats," is their message. "It may hurt."

Both sides of the medical marijuana debate produce studies that prove medical-marijuana legalization either does or does not increase the consumption of marijuana generally. The opponents of Issue 5 on the general-election ballot can argue, and do, that the wording of the initiated act is both too long and too short. Supporters of Issue 5 can note that opponents have sunk even to racism in their television advertising. All of this is relatively unimportant. The substance of Issue 5 is indeed compassion. Some people want to comfort their sick neighbors; some do not, and, when consumed by faith-based hatred, or greed, they don't want anybody else to do it either.

Speaking of mean, hardly anybody is consistently meaner than the Chamber of Commerce. Cruelty with a tie on. Every proposal to aid the working class — higher wages, safer working conditions, more affordable health care — is opposed by the Chamber, which seeks to keep workers humble, obedient and willing to do whatever bosses want, for whatever compensation. Ease their pain and who knows what they might ask for next. Respect, maybe. People who want pain relief ought to be rich.

So it was hardly surprising that Randy Zook of the Chamber of Commerce showed up at an anti-Issue 5 rally, pledging support for the antis. Also on hand were those who make a handsome living by keeping the misnamed "drug war" going. (It's a war on people, of course, not on drugs. Drugs don't die in agony, people do.) Professional drug warriors oppose even a limited cease-fire in the conflict. Arkansas "drug czar" Fran Flener and another state Department of Human Services employee, Jennifer Gallaher, are busily spreading Jerry Cox's propaganda at the taxpayer's expense. If their conduct is not illegal, as Issue 5 supporters claim, it should be. Flener makes $81,000 for holding a state job that ought not even exist. Gallaher knocks down $104,000. Let's call their employer the Department of Human Disservices.

It may be true, we'll admit, that not everyone who opposes Issue 5 is cold-hearted, but it's certainly true that all the cold-hearted are opposed to Issue 5. An old comedian once asked, in all seriousness, about the time of World War II, "Why can't people just leave each other the hell alone?" Why can't we let our sick neighbors make their tortured lives a little more bearable, or at least try to?

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