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John Wayne's Holster: Spark up a phatty! Cure your ills!
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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Spark up a phatty! Cure your ills!

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that patients using medical marijuana will be subject to federal prosecution, even if such use is permitted by their own state’s laws (Gonzales v. Raich, case no. 03-1454). Medical marijuana proponents see the ruling as a major set-back in their goal to promote the use of marijuana for its medicinal and therapeutic effects; whereas, opponents applaud the ruling as a victory in the battle for a drug-free America.

The ruling has left the door open for Congress to step in and regulate the use of medical marijuana if it chooses to do so. As such, the debate over the legitimacy of medical marijuana will continue. For me, it boils down to two key issues. First is a State’s rights issue. Second is the legitimacy of marijuana as medicine?

Personally, I believe that this is really a State’s rights issue. For the sake of brevity, I will leave it at that and focus on the issue of marijuana as medicine. I will take up the issue of State’s rights in a future posting.

The use of marijuana as a therapeutic agent can be traced as far back as 5,000 years ago - in China - where it was used as an anesthetic. Throughout history it has been used by many cultures for treating a variety of symptoms, including pain, insomnia, indigestion, and spastic conditions. Currently, marijuana is used to treat patients suffering from a variety of illnesses/diseases, including cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma to name just a few. It seems to me that the medicinal properties are not in question – at least among reasonable people. Rather, the debate involves weighing marijuana’s medicinal benefits against the risks posed by its use.

Like all drugs, the use of marijuana has its associated side-effects. A variety of studies have indicated that marijuana affects the user’s motor skills and cognitive abilities. Smoking marijuana (and tobacco) damages bronchial and pulmonary tissues. Long-term use has also been linked to various mental disorders including depression, bipolar psychosis and schizophrenia. Other effects include immunosuppression, decreases in blood pressure, risk of heart attack for middle-aged and elderly. There are also indications that marijuana may be addictive, or at least habit-forming. Granted, some of these associated side-effects are more clearly linked to marijuana use than others. And there is still considerable debate regarding its addictiveness. My intent here is not to get into a debate on these topics, but rather to make the point that there are indeed side-effects.

The question then becomes, "Do these side-effects really outweigh marijuana’s medical benefits?" It seems to me that the answer is NO. Yes there are side-effects, but are they worse than the litany of side affects associated with many of the nationally advertised “lifestyle” drugs that permeate the media? Drug X may cause persistent fever, chronic infection, intestinal inflammation, shortness-of-breath, liver failure, heart attack, lymphoma, rash, dizziness, stroke, death, etc. Again, the answer is NO!

Then why not license marijuana for medical use? The answer seems to lie in the cultural significance of marijuana as a recreational drug. Opponents of medical marijuana issue see the promotion of its therapeutic effects as a ruse aimed at liberalization of drug laws. They argue that legalization for medical use will make it more difficult to keep marijuana out of the hands of recreational users. From my own personal experience, I think this is a legitimate point. I lived in San Francisco for several years. One could simply go down to the Transfer Junction (a medical marijuana club) at Market & Church. You couldn’t get into the club, but if you hang around outside (say for example in the Safeway Parking lot across the street), you could entice one of the “authorized users” to sell you some. And it was pretty potent stuff – at least that is what I am told.

But is this a legitimate reason to prevent to use of marijuana as a therapeutic and medicinal agent? I would say no! Other drugs which are far more dangerous than marijuana, particularly pain-killers, are not hard to come by without a valid prescription. Just ask Liz Taylor or Rush Limbaugh. Better yet, just go on the internet and buy them yourself. Despite these problems, I don’t see the government stepping in to make those drugs illegal. The pharmaceutical companies would stand for it.

The hurdle that must be overcome here is not based on science or medicine. Rather, it is ideological.


At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Erik Resch said...

Awesome blog! You are correct marijuana has lots of medicinal purposes. However I think most proponents are hiding behind medicine to smoke legally. Many poeple don't realize that a good portion of today's medicines come from plants. There is already a marijuana pill called Marinol, given to cancer patients to stimulate hunger so that they'll want to eat. There are also plenty of meds being used for other things than what they were originally designed or approved for. So who says smoking is the only way to achieve a medicinal benefit?

At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Roy said...

Nice Blog. I think this is a ridiculous debate. You said that opponents laud this as a victory for a drug-free America.That is an oxy-moron, America is anything but drug-free.
The debate is about states rights or lack thereof. I will concede that the medical movement is part of a larger legalization movement. (at least for me)

At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was listening to a debate on Public Radio the other day where the speakers were talking about a woman in California with a brain tumor and I had to laugh out loud.
Let's see.......brain tumor....pain......possible addiction to that "dangerous, addictive drug".......hmmmmmmmm what would I do? what would I do?????????????????????????
Your loving, perhaps someday stoned, Aunt Be

At 10:03 PM, Anonymous brad said...

I think you're preaching to the choir here. Most of your contact list is going to agree that terminal patients should get cheap, natural, low-side-effect profile drugs to ease their suffering. And any one who's actually read the constitution knows that most of what the federal legislators do is actually the province of the states. So, I'd love to see the House weigh in on a bill that legalize medicinal marijuana. It's safer than most of the drugs my company makes. The problem is that the drug companies would be waging a Pepsi or Coke battle instead of an exclusive for twenty years monopoly. So the powerful drug lobby won't let mj hit the market. I don't think this congress will legalize it. But if the debate finally hits the national assembly, then the next (hopefully more liberal, or atleast balanced) congress can lend some reason to mj usage without the powerful hand of the drug lobby in the pockets of all the republicans.

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