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article imageOp-Ed: Medical marijuana: choosing compassion and science, not politics

By Karla Lant     Oct 6, 2014 in Health
2014 should be another turning point in America when it comes to medical marijuana. It is irresponsible to refuse patients in need a viable medical treatment any longer, especially when the refusal is based on politics rather than facts.
There are a lot of good reasons for the majority to finally embrace medical marijuana: the proven laws in many states, the medical evidence, the principles of freedom that many of us hold dear. But it is the larger cultural shift we are undergoing as a country right now that can win this argument, and it is this larger change in attitudes that can end the debate permanently.
The Colorado Case Study: What It Tells Us About Medical Marijuana
Since January of 2014 the nation has seen Colorado recreational marijuana businesses taxed and regulated by the state earn money for the people; after they opened their doors they made more than $5 million in the first seven days. As 2014 wore on the numbers prove that these numbers are going to be there over the long haul.
Voters in Washington followed those in Colorado, and the Justice Department finally allowed the voters of these states set the law for themselves. Now legislation on cannabis use for both medical and recreational purposes is moving forward in many states, and no surprise: the Colorado case study alone reveals a $10 billion industry by 2018. Unfortunately, this focus on the money side of things alone can obscure the more important issues.
Beyond the Business of Marijuana
Social justice, prison reform, and legal advocates are working tirelessly on behalf of medical marijuana for much purer reasons. They are fighting the devastating consequences of the drug war — many of which impact our public health. More and more average Americans are questioning the wisdom of arresting three quarters of a million people — most for possession[/url ]— for marijuana every single year. And although some remain concerned about the possible effects of marijuana on the body and brain, they are realizing that legalization of medical marijuana is the right move given the [url= t=_blank]chilling effect criminalization has had on research.
Of course, the path towards reason isn't an easy one. Although President Obama signed the 2014 farm bill in February of 2014 which removed hemp grown for research purposes from the Controlled Substances Act, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) ordered U.S. Customs officials in Kentucky to seize 286 pounds of imported hemp seeds in May. It took an expensive and pointless week of litigation in federal court to force the agency to release the seeds. This happened again in June, this time to Colorado, when U.S. Customs and DEA agents seized another shipment of seeds.
When even hemp seeds for research are this difficult to come by, you have to know that readily-available, reasonably-priced medical-grade marijuana is going to be a bigger hurdle.
These exercises in unintentional self-parody on the part of some of our leaders reflect their ridiculous intransigence. DEA head Michele Leonhart is a special problem, not just for hemp farmers, medical marijuana advocates and patients, or those seeking to legalize marijuana, but for anyone hoping for an informed dialogue on drug issues. Leonhart has such a polluted, biased view on the drug war, her raison d'être, that she has publicly described the “low point in her career” as not one of the many violations of U.S. law she ordered perpetrated, but instead, as the mere flying of a flag made of hemp over the U.S. Capitol on July 4th.
This bizarre perspective is well-known, and has prompted cries for her public resignation by many legislators. Her refusal to acknowledge very simple facts and her insistence that marijuana is equally as dangerous as methamphetamine and crack cocaine, for example, are also well-known (just as they are disparaged by almost everyone with any medical or scientific standing).
Needless Clashes Between Legalization and Medical Marijuana
Interestingly, although recreational marijuana in states like Colorado and Washington are ostensibly separate from medical marijuana issues, there are important connections to assess. Colorado built its legalized marijuana system using its medical marijuana infrastructure as a model, while the state of Washington avoided this plan. Instead, the Washington legalized marijuana infrastructure was created new. The result of this has been somewhat problematic.
First, there is a serious shortage of recreational marijuana in Washington, stemming in large part from bureaucratic difficulties faced by producers, processors, and retailers alike. There is also what is in essence a triple tax system that is crippling the industry. Farmers, processors, and retailers are each taxed 25 percent, and this heavy triple tax burden has created a $35.00 per gram price tag in Washington which is promoting a black market. There is also a shortage of licenses for retailers, which is resulting in price fixing and other problems.
Now many medical users are being pushed to patronize state run stores — at the new, triply inflated prices to support the burdened new system. Some legislators are also trying to take away patients' rights to grow, which, given how profitable the triple tax system is, should not be surprising.
These kinds of injustices are especially difficult to remedy. They are legally nuanced, but given the lack of clarity between state and federal issues, many lawyers do not want to get involved. And many of these issues are clearly federal ones, but since federal authorities are so obviously and personally conflicted about even medical marijuana, how can we turn to them to remedy problems like price fixing? Furthermore, as federal agencies like the DEA continue to illegally seize hemp seeds and otherwise erode faith in their veracity as an agency charged with upholding the law, it seems unlikely that they can be relied upon to assist medical marijuana patients.
Arizona presents another example, this time of a conflict within the medical marijuana system that is being fomented by business and taxation concerns. Medical marijuana has been legal in Arizona since 2010. Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed in Maricopa County Superior Court which challenges the “25 mile rule.” This provision in the 2010 Medical Marijuana law makes it illegal for those who live within 25 miles of a dispensary to grow their own plants. This is true whether their 25 miles is an “as the crow flies” calculation that means a four hour trek over a mountain top, or whether the dispensary is poorly run and overpriced. This particular provision has been a sticking point for many patients who object to being forced to buy from growers who can set sky-high prices, or who prefer to grow their own plants.
Why Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana movements across the U.S. continue to gain momentum. Although the general public either has a great deal of confusion concerning the difference between medical and recreational marijuana use or disputes that the differences are real, there are in fact significant differences. This is true despite commentary speculating that medical programs like Oregon's may be used by recreational users.
(It probably is sometimes. Maybe we should just legalize it. But that truly is a different discussion.)
The traditional medical profession, the business world, and most of the world now recognize medical marijuana as a legitimate source of treatment for the sick. However, the economics of the medical marijuana business are complicating the ethical issues that impact patients, and without consistent legislation and enforcement, patients have no real recourse. (If the medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries themselves were entirely unregulated or recently started from whole cloth with major opposition from elements of the federal government, we would likely see similar problems for all medical patients, not just those trying to access medical marijuana.)
Cannabis is effective in the treatment of anxiety, cancer, Crohn's disease, glaucoma, migraine headaches, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasticity, nausea, and nerve pain, along with many other serious health problems. Medical grade cannabis is carefully grown, tended, and processed. The growing process takes a high degree of skill; even slight mistakes can result in entire crops being ruined. Only products with the requisite THC potency and purity can be considered medical marijuana; this is why it must be inspected for contaminants such as pests, molds, chemicals, and other problems.
Growers require a great deal of specialized equipment which is expensive, and grow operations demand intensive time, effort, and supervision. One of the justifications cited for regulating grow operations is the fact that they can be targets for criminals or fire hazards — not least because of uneven enforcement issues. However, many individual growers believe that the reason for restricting growers has more to do with business and money.
A Changing Tide
The real force behind acceptance of medical cannabis is a cultural shift. More and more people see laws that jail people for marijuana use — whatever their reasons — as a wasteful exercise, not to mention a violation of rights. Medical use is even more sympathetic, and given the broad support from doctors that medical cannabis receives, its prohibition is feeling wasteful to large numbers of Americans.
Oregon State Representative Earl Blumenauer commented at length: “I think it's game over in less than five years. There's no question that we're likely to see another state or two this year legalizing [recreational] use. We're going to see more medical marijuana progress. The crazy prohibitions on bank services and probably the tax disparities — these are all eroding.”
“Part of what is going on with the hemp discussion is that people are seeing through the nonsense that somehow this is cover for surreptitious marijuana production, conflating industrial hemp with marijuana. And throughout the whole marijuana issue debate, there are numerous flat-out falsehoods. Schedule I drug? No therapeutic use? Worse than cocaine and meth? I mean, wait a minute.”
He's right. People are tired of "reefer madness," tired of hearing drowning out helpful information, and tired of incidents like the Michele Leonhart marijuana chronicles making headlines highlighting the fact that we can't trust the DEA because their leader is lying about the facts.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent and a practicing neurosurgeon wrote this impassioned plea earlier this year:
“I have met with hundreds of patients, dozens of scientists and the curious majority who simply want a deeper understanding of this ancient plant. I have sat in labs and personally analyzed the molecules in marijuana that have such potential but are also a source of intense controversy. I have seen those molecules turned into medicine that has quelled epilepsy in a child and pain in a grown adult. I've seen it help a woman at the peak of her life to overcome the ravages of multiple sclerosis.. . .I am not backing down on medical marijuana; I am doubling down.”
It is irresponsible to refuse patients in need a viable medical treatment any longer, especially when the basis for the refusal is based on politics rather than facts.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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