Sunday, November 1, 2009

Can We Talk About Medical Marijuana?

Recently, the controversy around medical marijuana came to the fore again as detailed in U.S. Won't Prosecute in States That Allow Medical Marijuana.

People who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it to them should not face federal prosecution, provided they act according to state law, the Justice Department said Monday in a directive with far-reaching political and legal implications.

In a
memorandum to federal prosecutors in the 14 states that make some allowance for the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the department said that it was committed to the “efficient and rational use” of its resources and that prosecuting patients and distributors who are in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws did not meet that standard.

The significance of this is that up until now, despite these states legalizing medical marijuana, the federal government still had the right to arrest people for consuming marijuana for any purpose — and did under previous administrations. This reversal under the Obama administration allows these medical users to breathe a sigh of relief.

But despite ample evidence that marijuana has been helpful in easing the suffering of cancer and AIDS patients, the US government continues to include marijuana as a
Schedule I controlled substance which declares that it has no accepted medical use. In keeping with this, the Food and Drug Administration has issued statements that "no sound scientific studies" support the use of marijuana.

What further compounds the aggravation for those supporting the use of medical marijuana is that the federal government is the nation’s
only legal grower of marijuana for medical research. Critics have charged that the government issue marijuana is of too low a quality to conduct serious research and have sought permission to grow their own medical grade marijuana for research purposes but without success.

So basically we have the government taking the position that there are no sound studies to support medical use of marijuana while at the same time doing what they can to restrict any research that may prove them wrong. But what else can we expect from a government that still stubbornly chooses to conduct a “War on Drugs”? In a way, it presents a dilemma for them. Taking a drug away from people who rely on it to relieve their suffering is cruel. But allowing it for medical purposes then opens the door for those who want to use and grow marijuana for recreational purposes which the War on Drugs people obviously don’t want to happen.

A New York Times video,
The Marijuana State shows how twelve years after California voters legalized medical marijuana, it is being exploited as a cash crop and for recreational use so it is felt by many that California has achieved de facto legalization or at least decriminalization of pot. Just to make sure, there are initiatives in California on legislation that would formally legalize pot.

This is why the medical marijuana controversy is inextricably linked with the controversy around its legalization. As long as marijuana remains illegal, it will remain a lucrative crop to grow whether it is by the Mexican drug cartels, or by those in Afghanistan where
eradicated poppy fields have been replaced by marijuana. The legalization and taxing of marijuana could bring a sizable windfall in government revenue at a time when we desperately need it to continue to provide vital services.

Drug Policy Alliance Network sums it all up this way:

Few public policies have compromised public health and undermined our fundamental civil liberties for so long and to such a degree as the war on drugs. The United States is now the world's largest jailer, imprisoning nearly half a million people for drug offenses alone. That's more people than Western Europe, with a bigger population, incarcerates for all offenses. Roughly 1.5 million people are arrested each year for drug law violations - 40% of them just for marijuana possession.

(And in the 36 states that still prohibit medical marijuana) People suffering from cancer, AIDS and other debilitating illnesses are regularly denied access to their medicine or even arrested and prosecuted for using medical marijuana. We can do better.

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