PIERRE - At a time when states like Colorado and Washington have decriminalized marijuana for recreational use, South Dakota has seen a bill to allow courts to consider medical necessity as a mitigating circumstance in cases of simple possession killed in House committee.

There is a multitude of anecdotal evidence of marijuana’s beneficial medical uses, however the federal government continues to treat it as a substance with no redeeming medical value. Conversely, cocaine and methamphetamine are classified as having some medical use, rare as cause for prescribing those drugs may be.

The principle reason for this lies not with scientific study, which has largely been impossible given marijuana’s controlled status, but stems from sheer political posturing. Culture clash dating back to 1960s has made politicians afraid to appear weak on the drug issue. As a result, we have policy designed to make politicos appear tough on crime rather than be in accord with evidence and commonsense.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is opposing medical marijuana on the grounds that its availability must be restricted because it is a “gateway” drug. This type of reasoning is usually based on asking heroin or crack users if they tried marijuana first, which is rife with bias. Marijuana is much more widely available than any harder drug, so it stands to reason that it would be encountered earlier.

More importantly, the question shouldn’t be how many heroin users tried marijuana before moving on, but rather what percentage of marijuana users eventually made their way to heroin. Obviously, this percentage is considerably smaller.

Using the “gateway” reasoning, shouldn’t we also criminalize and crack down on alcohol, tobacco, and even caffeine? After all, doesn’t the typical heroin user likely try these drugs earlier on their path to becoming a junkie?

Obviously, no one wants to see more kids on drugs or witness the personal tragedy of drug abuse. However, the notion that the law respects the average adult enough to allow them to indulge in alcohol, which is responsible for at least as much social mayhem, but not marijuana, smacks of senseless hypocrisy.

It is high time that politicians drop the drug warrior pretense and act to relieve the unnecessary suffering of those who could be benefitted by medical marijuana.