As California gets ready to address the outright legalization of Cannabis in November 2010. L.A.'s D.A. Steve Cooley has decided to take a slightly different approach regarding the medical marijuana clubs. Mr. Cooley would like to close down every and all legal medical marijuana collectives in the greater L.A. county area. Despite the fact that 74% of the voting public are fine with the current system.
May 12, 2008 – Red lights flashed everywhere. Police radios shrieked a conundrum of excited voices. Cops crouched in the street with gleaming pistols aimed at a skinny young Caucasian fellow holding both hands in the air while standing beside his dilapidated car. A perilous criminal arrest was taking place right in front of my home. The year was 1959, I was eleven years old. Witnessing the capture of this dangerous outlaw, for suspicion of marijuana1 possession, was my first encounter with the forbidden drug. A few years later, I was formally introduced to recreational use of marijuana. I became an occasional user of pot2. As I grew older, medical problems invaded my life. Sixteen prescription drugs, and their related side effects, became part of my daily diet. Certain medical professionals suggested replacing some of my prescriptions with marijuana. I did. The results were amazing. Marijuana improves the quality of life for an estimated 300,000 people suffering from disease and disability in the USA < http://www.usatoday.com >. However, obtaining and using marijuana for medical purposes is a surreptitious process. Conflicting federal and state laws, combined with social disapproval and a criminal stigma, forced me to return to my regimen of sixteen prescriptions per day. Current laws require modifications to help those who choose to use marijuana instead of other prescription drugs. Federal and state legalization of marijuana, for medical use by certified patients, will improve quality of life for thousands of persons suffering from disease and disabilities in the USA.
Medical use of marijuana began approximately 2737 B.C. when Emperor Shen Neng of China, who discovered several medicines, issued the first medical marijuana prescription. By 1400 B.C., marijuana spread to India where it was considered a holy plant that could relieve stress. Around 1000 A.D., China, India, Greece, and Rome developed medicinal uses for marijuana (Earleywine 26). Medical marijuana's reputation spread to the America's by the mid 1700's. In 1860, the Ohio State Medical Society summarized the medical uses of marijuana; they reported “favorable outcomes for treating pain, inflammation, and cough” (Earleywine 14). By the end of the nineteenth century, the development of several new synthetic drugs such as aspirin, chloral hydrate, and barbiturates perpetuated a rapid decline in medical marijuana use. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was the first federal government attempt to regulate marijuana. Under this law, the government made it “prohibitively expensive to obtain the drug legally for any other than medical purposes” (Grinspoon 8). The law also made medical use very difficult because of the overwhelming paperwork required from doctors. “Cannabis was removed from the United States Pharmacopoeia and National Formulary in 1941” (Grinspoon 8).
Federal laws in the United States prohibit the use of marijuana, or the cannabis plant, for any reason. After the marijuana tax act of 1937, new federal laws, the Boggs Act of 1951, and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 “made marijuana a hard drug.” The same penalties for heroin and cocaine use applied to marijuana. In 1969, the Dangerous Substances Act classified marijuana a “schedule I” drug, the most restrictive designation. Marijuana for any use was totally prohibited by this law. The prevailing tolerant social attitude of the 1970's caused many states to lessen penalties for pot use. Eleven states decriminalized medical marijuana use during this period (Ruben 40). In California, the passage of Proposition 2153 in 1996 permitted medical use of marijuana for seriously ill patients however; it remained in conflict with federal law. The federal argument to California's Proposition 215 stated that “prescribing Schedule I controlled substances will lead the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to revoke the practioner's registration” (McDonough 112). Current federal and most state's laws make medical marijuana use a risky endeavor.
Marijuana's therapeutic benefits are well documented. In their 1997 book, Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, Lynn Zimmer, Ph.d., and John P.Morgan, M.D. report, “…..studies demonstrate marijuana's usefulness in reducing nausea and vomiting, stimulating appetite, promoting weight gain, and diminishing intraocular pressure from glaucoma” (Bock 135). In addition, multiple sclerosis, migraine headaches, depression, seizures, insomnia, and chronic pain are other medical conditions reportedly helped by medical marijuana (Bock 136). “…..Cannabinoid drugs might offer broad spectrum relief not found in any other single medication” was one of the conclusions in a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine. They also suggested however, “smoking” marijuana comes with certain risks. Harmful substances and “a variable mixture of biologically active compounds” are delivered in the marijuana smoke (Bock 136). Steve Kubby, a medicinal marijuana patient for more than 20 years, disagrees. He believes, “smoking marijuana cigarettes is the most effective and safest way to administer medical marijuana for him” (Bock 136).
Physicians do not all agree marijuana has medicinal value. Many argue the negative side effects of marijuana far outweigh the side effects of conventional drugs. Some elderly patients cannot tolerate the effects of large quantities of THC4 required to ease the problems of chemotherapy. Chronic, daily use of marijuana is required to treat many medical conditions. Patients are severely exposed to harmful toxic effects in addition to decreased concentration, motor coordination, and memory. Chronic use of the drug impairs ability to perform common complex tasks such as driving an automobile or performing complicated occupational duties (Voth 105). Despite numerous physicians' claims of harmful side effects of marijuana, complete scientific evidence supporting the claims is inconclusive.
I became a medical marijuana patient in California a few years ago. The procedure entails obtaining a “recommendation5” from a state certified physician. After presenting documentation of my medical history, undergoing a brief physical examination, and surrendering two-hundred dollars cash, I received a “physician's statement,” valid for one year, certifying I was a qualified medical marijuana patient. Subsequent yearly renewals required a visit to the physician's office and one-hundred dollars cash. The entire process was simple however, the conflicting federal and state laws created emotions of fear, intimidation, and anxiety. I always feared that one of the physicians' neighboring businesses would report my vehicle's license to the DEA, or that one of the many patients in the physician's office was an undercover DEA agent, or that the physician's office would be “raided” by the DEA at any time. The prevailing medical marijuana laws in the United States today create an atmosphere of secrecy and stealth for those to whom the drug is a necessity. Liberalizing medical marijuana laws will return dignity to those who need the medicine most.
The current medical marijuana certification process is full of problems. Critics argue that it is far too easy to obtain marijuana for recreational use by abusing the medical marijuana certification process (McDonough 114). Many physicians in California interpret the law liberally and provide access to medical marijuana to those not truly medically eligible. California law requires a patient to be suffering from just one of many conditions to be eligible for a marijuana recommendation. This enables disreputable physicians to provide recommendations for claims such as in-grown toe nails, occasional back cramps after participating in neighborhood football games, and many other minor medical ailments. In a recent interview with an employee of Herbal Solutions Compassionate Caregivers6 in Long Beach, CA, she said; “…..several customers have told me they don't have any real medical problems. As long as they have the physician's recommendation, we have to provide it to them.” Currently in California, almost anyone with two-hundred dollars can obtain a medical marijuana recommendation.
Legalizing medical marijuana in a joint federal and state effort will allow stricter monitoring and control of the certification process for physicians and patients. Blatant abuse of the system will be reduced by federal and state laws mandating specific medical conditions qualifying for medical marijuana relief. Under legalized federal and state laws, physicians will be required to provide thorough medical examinations to the prospective medical marijuana patients, instead of the “bring a note from your mom and plenty of cash” treatment of today. Patients will have to provide documented proof of a medical condition listed in the government's official list of medical conditions qualifying for medical marijuana relief. The biggest benefit for the certified, truly needy medical marijuana patient will be the freedom to obtain vital medicine without legal harassment and persecution.
After receiving a recommendation, the next step is purchasing the medicine. Over 120 dispensaries are available in California < http://www.canorml.org >. The dispensary I'm most familiar with is Herbal Solutions Compassionate Caregivers in Long Beach, CA. Located on an alley, the daunting facade hides an inventory of over 100 different marijuana products. First time customers require verification of their recommendations by a phone call to the issuing physician. Once completed, entry into the product showroom is permitted. An aroma filled room contains the vast array of marijuana products. Medicine can be selected from over twenty-five different strains of marijuana with names like Purple Urkel, Afghan Kush, and Organic Diesel. Prescriptions are filled in quantities ranging from a single cigarette to one pound bags; prices range from six to thousands of dollars. Marijuana cookies, brownies, drinks, concentrates, and growing seeds are also available. Payment is made in cash and there are no receipts nor does medical insurance cover any purchases. Because it is considered illegal by federal laws, purchasing medical marijuana always caused me to feel like a criminal committing a hideous crime.
Many cities in California prohibit operation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Fullerton, and San Diego are just a few California cities with bans on dispensaries. The primary reason cited by most city government officials is that permitting the operation of dispensaries in their city would expose them to many unnecessary legal challenges. A few cities in California allow operation of marijuana dispensaries. Long Beach, for example, has permitted operation of dispensaries, although in some cases without issuing proper business licenses. Due to the proliferation of dispensaries in Long Beach, they have been the target of recent DEA raids, the last occurring in November, 2007 < http://www.presstelegram.com >. In July 2007, Los Angeles, another city permitting dispensaries, experienced DEA raids at ten different locations throughout the city. The current laws create difficult and unsafe methods of obtaining medical marijuana by certified patients. Liberalization of these laws will eliminate the probability of innocent, suffering patients ending up in prison.
The problems with the prevailing medical marijuana laws caused me to stop using the medicine. Federal law prohibits use of marijuana under any circumstance therefore: using the drug is a crime. I am not a criminal. When I used medical marijuana at a rate of three to four puffs a day, usually before bed, I benefitted from: reduced blood pressure allowing elimination of four prescriptions per day, substantial reduction of vicodin and dillaudid pain medication and their side effects, relief from glaucoma problems, increased appetite7, and less insomnia. I used the medicine responsibly and carefully however, the illegal nature of the medicine, and the accompanying repercussions, convinced me to abandon its use. I, and many others, will certainly gain from changes to the current laws; gains that would enhance my life without harming anyone else.
Many benefits will be derived from federal and state legalization of medical marijuana. Federal and state taxes imposed on medical marijuana sales will help governments' budgets. Crime will be reduced in places where medical marijuana users obtain their medicine by illicit means. Dependence on numerous harmful prescription drugs will be reduced (don't tell that to the drug companies). Certified medical marijuana patients will be able to obtain their medicine easily, safely, and free from legal prosecution. The simple solution of liberalized, unified, and realistic federal and state medical marijuana laws will provide relief for many afflicted victims in the USA. Potential social and financial benefits to the federal and state governments from legalization of medical marijuana are too important to ignore. The decision of what to put in my body should be my own. The choice of not using harmful prescription drugs is mine alone. I must have the right to decide if a federally mandated harmful drug is appropriate for my consumption. Federal and state legalization of medical marijuana will provide freedom of choice for the quality of the quantity of my life.
1. Marijuana – popular name for the cannabis plant from which hemp and an intoxicating drug are produced. Amongst many different nicknames, marijuana is also commonly known as “pot, weed, reefer, or Mary Jane (MJ).”
2. Pot – “another common name for marijuana, most likely came from the fact that marijuana was grown in flower pots during the 1940's” (Rubin, 14).
3. Proposition 215 – known as the California Compassionate Use Act provides legal protection to seriously ill patients who use marijuana therapeutically (McDonough 111).
4. THC – abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol, the secretion the cannabis plant provides to protect its leaves from the sun's dehydrating effects. This is the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana (Rubin 8).
5. Recommendation – In California, the certified documentation required from a physician to enable patient access to medical marijuana without state prosecution. For pharmaceutical medications this is known as a prescription.
6. Herbal Solutions Compassionate Caregivers – one of many California State certified dispensaries of medical marijuana products in the Southern California area.
7. My appetite decreased due to the medications and thus weight loss became a serious problem. Medical marijuana increased my appetite thus I was eating more and better.
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Voth, Eric A.. “Federal Laws Prohibiting The Use Of Medical Marijuana Protect Patients.” Marijuana – Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Carroll, Jamuna. Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3535: Greenhaven Press, 2006. 98.