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Medical marijuana heads south

In addition to medical usage, four states — Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska — plus the District of Columbia, have laws in place that permit recreational use of cannabis. But permissiveness is largely regional, concentrated in the Northeast, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest.

And among those states that have yet to pass laws in favor of legalization, a handful have at least decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis deemed for personal use. These include Ohio, Nebraska, Mississippi and North Carolina. But a number of states have harsh laws for those caught with even minimal quantities of marijuana including Florida, Georgia, Texas, Idaho, Missouri, and Wyoming. A quick glance at these regions reveals they are die-hard red states.

While there are not yet enough studies that fully analyze medicinal properties of cannabis, research has proven that the medicinal herb can help sufferers of glaucoma, epilepsy, seizures, and anxiety disorders. It may also slow the progression of certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. Then there are the pain relief benefits for patients with Parkinson’s, MS, muscle spasms and cancer. Side effects of Hepatitis C and cancer therapies are also lessened with cannabis use.

And a whole host of inflammatory disorders may improve with marijuana therapy including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBD, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Interestingly, cannabis has also been shown to be effective in fighting substance abuse disorders including alcoholism. But no matter how many states have passed progressive medical marijuana laws, U.S. Federal laws remain in place that offer stiff punishments for even first offenses of possession and even harsher outcomes for sales and cultivation of marijuana.

And state permissiveness is no defense if Federal agencies decide on enforcement. Perhaps if all states pass statutes allowing medical use of cannabis products, a change in Federal law will be possible. Part of the process is dispelling optics of marijuana users as shady, long-haired, van driving types who roll up blunts for fun. In fact, legal users run the gamut of every race, age and profession among all religious and political beliefs. Picture a middle class adult using a vaporizer rather than rolling papers and approaching it not as a treat, but a treatment — and you’ve got the more typical adopter.

What’s most encouraging is that proposed marijuana legalization statutes are finally breaking into those red states including the South and sweeping across the Bible belt. In fact, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia just signed the medical marijuana bill into law this past week. This year, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas will see lawmakers reconsider cannabis. Proposed legalization laws fell short in North Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi this year, but the very fact that the concept was even under consideration in this region is promising. Politics aside, cannabis can be life-changing for millions suffering under the yoke of disease, so we can only hope that legalization expands faster than the illnesses it treats.

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