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Letters to the Editor 

Week of July 9, 2003

Bechtel and Its Buddies

Networking for fun and profit: I just wanted to thank Lisa Davis for the wonderful investigative report she did on Bechtel ["It's a Bechtel World," June 18]. The company so prides itself on working behind the scenes, and her article really exposes its network of powerful contacts and some of the ways that these connections are maintained.

Thanks and keep up this level of reporting. You are providing an important public service. I used to work for Bechtel, and it routinely employs Halliburton subsidiaries as subcontractors on major projects. No surprise there.

Patricia Burgess

Nothing exceeds like excess: Davis presents a great amount of damning information about the Bechtel corporation and the personal connections that allow it (and, by extension, the world's other major corporations) to control the vast majority of profits from public spending and world resource flows.

In sidelining the complaints of Bechtel protesters (who assume that George Shultz somehow was single-handedly responsible for Bechtel's Iraq contract), however, she concludes that Bechtel is not a rogue firm playing outside the rules because Bechtel is the textbook example of business as usual.

Maybe Ms. Davis couldn't hear the war-protest slogan "No Business as Usual," or maybe she just wants the reader to draw his or her own conclusion that the problem lies precisely with business as usual and those who perpetuate it -- for instance, Bechtel, through its massive political campaign contributions to both sides. If it's the latter, Ms. Davis does the reader a disservice in skimming over the worst of Bechtel's excesses.

In describing Bechtel's suit against Bolivia, for instance, she seems to find the "violent riots" (massive labor and community speak-outs in which one student was shot dead by police) a suitable pretext for Bechtel's predatory lawsuit on the world's second-poorest country. Similarly, in discussing Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq to promote Bechtel's pipeline, she says he met with "representatives of Saddam Hussein"; why not mention the widely circulated video and photo of the two men shaking hands?

A Shultz connection she fails to make is his seat on the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq -- a lobbying group of American corporate leaders that pushed for a war against Iraq before the president invented the pretexts of humanitarian liberation or defense against terrorist threats. Davis is talking about a corporation that gets authoritarian governments to gun down their own students in order to protect its contracts and sees a war, with its vast civilian price in lives and suffering, as a business opportunity to be promoted. Bechtel has no hesitation to "build anything, anywhere" whatever the cost in human life or freedom -- as long as it can get the money for its costs and cost overruns from its buddies in government. Yes, that is "business as usual." War protesters aren't naive about this, just far less willing to accept it than the all-too-sanguine Ms. Davis.

Raphael Sperry

O Cannabis!

It's effective against chronic pain, and it's cheap to boot: Matt Smith's recent article raised some worrisome issues concerning the operation of San Francisco's cannabis-medicines program, based almost exclusively on the statements of former S.F. Health Department worker Hank Schulz ["Hey, Man, Got Any ID?," June 11].

Although it's certainly true that some fired, disgruntled employees are legitimate whistle-blowers, others are simply, well, disgruntled. Unfortunately, it's impossible to distinguish between these two possibilities from Smith's piece with regard to Schulz. Aside from Smith's well-known bias against Proposition 215 (and those who would implement it), obviously false statements in his article make the whole story untrustworthy.

For one thing, I can assure Mr. Smith that most physicians who provide approvals of cannabis medicines under Proposition 215 charge far less than $250. But a far more serious error is Smith's claim that "medical science as a whole is actually a long way" from demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis medicines.

On the contrary, cannabis is probably the most-studied therapeutic substance in the world. In addition to thousands of years of use by hundreds of cultures, dozens of studies have demonstrated its clinical effectiveness, a fact that can easily be verified by anyone with access to the Internet. As one such resource I have assembled a summary of findings from several recent major academic and governmental studies ( ).

Additional evidence of the effectiveness of cannabis medicines was recently provided by GW Pharmaceuticals in support of its bid to win marketing approval for its whole-cannabis extract (Sativex®) in England later this year. Four placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blinded trials documented significant relief from pain and spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis and chronic neuropathic pain. See for details. (I am a part-time consultant to this company, but am writing as a private physician.)

Collectively, this body of evidence is far greater than what exists for many commonly used drugs, including aspirin, codeine, or penicillin.

Finally, Mr. Smith is mistaken in believing that "there are plenty of medications that are considered more effective" for the treatment of nausea and vomiting resulting from cancer chemotherapy. At least 10 percent of people on common chemotherapeutic regimens are resistant to conventional anti-nausea drugs, and many of these patients receive relief from cannabis, as documented in several studies.

Moreover, in this era of ever-rising health care costs -- much of it fueled by the expensive pharmaceutical products apparently preferred by Mr. Smith -- society must consider cost-effectiveness, not simply "effectiveness at whatever cost." It is here that cannabis clearly outshines its rivals, even at its present prohibition-inflated prices. Under an appropriate system of regulated availability, cannabis would be much less expensive than it is now and would completely blow away most conventional single-compound drugs used for the same conditions in terms of cost-effectiveness.

David Hadorn, M.D.

Dissin' and dismissin': Smith might want to do more research the next time he writes about medical marijuana. He dismisses the scientific evidence as "the emphatic statements of a few doctors who believe strongly in medical marijuana" and claims that "the active drug contained in the marijuana plant, THC, is considered a third choice in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea" -- which he incorrectly labels "the primary medical use of marijuana."

In fact, as noted in an authoritative review in the May 2003 issue of The Lancet Neurology, THC is just one of approximately 60 active marijuana components, known as cannabinoids. While many are in need of further study, there is abundant evidence that cannabinoids other than THC play a significant role in marijuana's therapeutic effects.

The Lancet Neurology article further noted the growing evidence for marijuana's benefit in the relief of pain and a variety of neurological illnesses, stating, "Cannabinoids inhibit pain in virtually every experimental pain paradigm." Indeed, a liquid marijuana extract has shown such remarkable benefit to patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and severe neuropathic pain that it is expected to be licensed for sale in Great Britain before the end of the year. International pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG has already signed an agreement to handle marketing of this product (which, alas, will not reach the U.S. for years, if at all).

Organizations supporting legal access to medical marijuana include, among others, the California Medical Association, California Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the New York State Association of County Health Officials, among many others.

Bruce Mirken
Director of Communications
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.


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