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The Final Frontier 

Depending on whom you ask, stem-cell research is either a medical godsend or further proof that God is dead.

Thursday, Jan 30 2003
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Page 6 of 9

”Um,“ says Zucker, ”I just called up and said this is Jerry Zucker.“

They looked at their trip as an educational crusade. They punched below the waist. ”We would walk in to a senator’s office with my daughter and her insulin pump attached to her belt and ask them what was more important -- my daughter‘s life or the life of a couple of cells?“

In a sense, CuresNow was fighting against the work of its founders’ business. In the minds of many, stem cells are directly linked to cloning, and the public perception of cloning is directly linked to Hollywood. ”We spent the better portion of the 20th century making mad-scientist movies,“ says Zucker. ”One of the first senators we met -- I can‘t tell you his name -- went on and on about how if we let this technology go forward someone will try to create a new Hitler. How much of that is real fear and how much of that is Hollywood?“

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As they suspected, most of the politicians didn’t really know what they were voting on. The Hollywood crew explained things slowly, and slowly began making headway. One of their early converts, who remains their strongest ally on the right, was Utah Republican and pro-life advocate Orrin Hatch. Centenarian Strom Thurmond joined their cause. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle agreed not to put the Brownback bill on the floor for a vote until CuresNow had a chance to talk to everyone who would listen.

Hatch, alongside several other senators (Feinstein, Kennedy and Specter), introduced his own bill that banned reproductive cloning but allowed therapeutic cloning. Neither his bill nor Brownback‘s could gather the votes needed to pass. Instead, Brownback tried attaching anti-cloning to several other bills, but CuresNow was making headway. The word was getting out, and none of the anti-cloning amendments have met with success. Currently, 60 senators favor stem-cell research, and the Senate vote is still pending.

Since the recent Republican gains in Congress, CuresNow knows that its Washington work is not done. But Zucker and company are spending an equal amount of energy in California because it’s here that lines are being drawn and the first major battle for stem-cell research is being fought.

”California is the country‘s biotech leader,“ says Zucker. ”We have brilliant scientists and a receptive state government. I want to see California as a safe haven for stem-cell research. We have a history of leading the nation in fights such as this. We have a great chance to add to that history.“

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: ”The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.“ Politically, this is the typically Republican turf known as states’ rights. It exists as a barrier to top-down, Washington-mandated policy. It is the legal reason California was able to legislate lower emission standards than the national standards mandated by the Clean Air Act. The rest of the nation followed California‘s anti-emission movement; car manufacturers, to their dismay, had to comply. California Democrats had used one of the Republicans’ favorite weapons -- states‘ rights -- to spark a state-by-state subversion of the GOP’s big-auto agenda.

This tactic doesn‘t always work. In 1996, California passed Proposition 215, making marijuana available with a note from your doctor, like any other prescription drug. In the ensuing years, nine other states legalized medical marijuana. George W. Bush promised in a 2000 campaign speech to leave medical marijuana as a states’-rights issue, saying, inimitably, ”I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose.“

But in May of 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative ruled against the 10th Amendment, and in 2001 the Drug Enforcement Agency started raiding California‘s buyers clubs and growers organizations, confiscating wares and imprisoning owners.

It doesn’t take an astute political analyst to realize that two of the engines driving the Republican Party are economics and morality. There are many different ways of looking at the conflicting tales of emissions and medical marijuana. The least cynical is to believe that the country was ready for cleaner air and not ready for legalized drug use. A more jaundiced view says that pollution laws had two things going for them -- they didn‘t contradict federal law and, since Californians buy more cars than anyone else, compliance carried an enormous economic incentive. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, goes against federal law and also lacks an economic impetus since you can’t tax its sale. Most important, it offends the moral standards of the right.

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