So I’m watching the Twitter feed of friends from Minnesota NORML, who are live-tweeting the debate over medical marijuana in the state legislature. In the Senate they have a fairly standard post-2010 Box Canyon-style medical marijuana law, and in the House they have a highly restricted, can-only-use-plant-if-vaporizing-with-a-nurse-present model of medical marijuana.

What strikes me is one common theme from the anti-medical marijuana legislators, something I’ve heard echoed in political halls ever since reformers decided to separate pot smokers into the sick people with a politically expedient sob story versus the reviled healthy people smoking pot for “recreation.” It’s that silly idea of a medical marijuana “slippery slope.”

It goes like this: some legislator will say something like, “Well, OF COURSE we don’t want to see anybody suffer, but this medical marijuana is just a slippery slope / first step / Trojan horse / camel’s nose under the tent for recreational marijuana legalization!”

Think for a moment about the logical implications of that sentence:

1. People are suffering, we admit that openly;
2. Medical marijuana would alleviate that suffering, we admit that tacitly;
3. But medical marijuana would lead to recreational marijuana, therefore;
4. People must remain in suffering.

Really, that’s what it comes down to. A legislator willing to look at a cancer patient, an AIDS patient, an epileptic child, a person in pain and all others who are suffering without medical marijuana, and say: “I see you’re suffering, but if we let you smoke pot for health, why, some adult might smoke pot for fun!”

As if adults weren’t smoking pot for fun NOW while patients suffer.

So, when you get right down to it, this isn’t even a legislator judging the suffering of a human being without medical marijuana as less of a moral affront than letting a human being smoke pot for fun. It’s worse than that, because whether or not medical marijuana exists doesn’t stop or exacerbate recreational marijuana smoking.

No, these are legislators willing to let a dying person suffer rather than giving even the appearance of approving of an adult smoking pot. The mere threat that medical marijuana might reduce the stigma of marijuana, or that some reviled recreational pothead might be unpunishable by law enforcement is all it takes for these politicians to bow to police and governor pressure and accept the unnecessary suffering of seriously sick and disabled people.

This is why, if medical marijuana activists really want to save the sick and dying, they need to end this fiction that some marijuana smokers are less deserving of a cage based on their medical charts. So long as there remains the reviled recreational pot smoker to demonize, detain and discriminate against, there remains a need for state laws and lawmakers to enact ever more stringent policies to make sure only the real, truly deserving patients are excepted from criminal prosecution.

In other words, if you legalize recreational marijuana, every patient at any level will get their medicine. But if you only legalize for the patients, the definition of “legitimate” will always exclude some patient at some level and all potheads at any level.

"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show.