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11:00 PM, Dec 8, 1996 • By JOHN P. WALTERS and WILLIAM J. BENNETT
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Even so, the feds may have a role in containing the damage from Prop. 215 and its counterpart in Arizona. Under a "public interest" provision of the Controlled Substances Act, the DEA can revoke the "registration" license every physician needs in order to store, dispense, or prescribe controlled substances. Historically, the DEA has worked in tandem with state authorities, but nothing in the law prevents it from moving unilaterally against the small number of pro-pot physicians who are likely to recommend marijuana for their patients. If the Clinton administration is serious about halting the rise in drug use among the young, its DEA will prepare to use this power.

DEA chief Thomas A. Constantine, for one, is clear-eyed on the issue. He likens medicinal marijuana to "snake oil," the harmful, all-purpose curatives sold by hucksters at the turn of the century. The analogy is apt.

Little more than diluted morphine, the likes of "Coats Cure" and the " Richie Cure" were eventually regulated out of existence under the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. This law was passed at the urging of Progressive reformers after the wild success of the snake-oil scam had brought on America's first great drug epidemic. Progressives were occasionally criticized for worshipping at the altar of science, a claim unlikely to be levelled against the proponents of medical marijuana.

William J. Bennett is the former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. John P. Walters is the former deputy director of that office. They are co-authors (with John J. DiIulio, Jr.) of Body Count (Simon and Schuster).