The focus of this research paper is on the beneficial use of medicinal marijuana and why the federal government as well as all states in the United States should pass a law decriminalizing the use of medical marijuana. The paper will explain a brief history of how medical marijuana came about; the beneficial impacts medical marijuana has had on specific medically ill groups; an example of a state where the use of medical marijuana has been legalized; and finally an explanation on the significant impact the federal government would have if they passed medical marijuana.
Legalizing Medical Marijuana
The purpose of medical marijuana is to provide relief to patients who are suffering from debilitating medical disorders such as AIDS, glaucoma, Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, severe nausea and vomiting of Cancer patients, Multiple Sclerosis, etc. Medical marijuana would provide the relief these patients need to lead a functional and maybe even a productive life. However, there are significant barriers that these patients and their doctors face in getting medicinal marijuana. Federal regulations still consider marijuana a Schedule I drug; meaning that it has no proven medical significance.
There have been multiple attempts to change marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug; but the Supreme Court continues to deny these requests. “While there is a plethora of scientific research establishing marijuana’s safety and efficacy, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have effectively blocked the FDA development process that would allow for the marijuana plant to be brought to market as prescription medicine” (Drug Policy Alliance, 2013). With the federal government still considering medical marijuana a Schedule I drug they can still arrest and prosecute the user and prescriber even in states where laws have been made decriminalizing the use of medical marijuana.
The use of medicinal marijuana has been around for thousands and thousands of years. “The first evidence of the medicinal use of cannabis is in an herbal published during the reign of Chinese Emperor Chen Nung 5000 years ago. It was recommended for malaria, constipation, rheumatic pains, “absentmindedness” and “female disorders. But in the West cannabis did not come into its own as a medicine until the mid-nineteenth century” (Grinspoon, L., 2005 p. 1-2). Back when medicinal marijuana was supported 100s of scholarly articles were published about the therapeutic potential marijuana had. “The first Western physician to take an interest…was WB O’Shaughnessy…He gave cannabis to animals…and began to use it with patients suffering from rabies, rheumatism, epilepsy, and tetanus” (Grinspoon, L., 2005 p. 2). This positive research continued until the early 1930’s when more and more physicians started relying on medications that were injectable therefore, quicker acting. Physicians that still believed in the medicinal use of marijuana were being outnumbered even if they were able to prove that the newer medications had more side effects.
In the 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act made law taxing each ounce of marijuana used and those that did not pay were subject to significant fines or prison for tax evasion. This law was to discourage recreational use. In 1970 “Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act…and placed cannabis in Schedule I, the most restrictive…(Schedule I drugs have no medical use and a high potential for abuse)” (Grinspoon, L., 2005, p.7). Even though there was backing from a multitude of physicians stating the positive impact the use of medicinal marijuana had the federal government would not budge on moving marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug. So, in turn, individual states started passing laws stating the use of medical marijuana starting in the 1970s. This is an important piece as most drug busts are conducted by the individual state and not the federal government; there is a level of protection to the individual and the prescriber.
Medical marijuana has been shown to have a multitude of positive effects to individuals with significant medical problems. According to an article written by Peter Hecht (2012):
“University of California medical researchers brought new science to the debate on marijuana’s place in medicine. After seven completed trials between 2002 and 2012, with five studies published and two pending, California researchers say the research shows pot does, in fact, have therapeutic value. In separate clinical trials between 2002 and 2006, Abrams and Ellis found that patients infected with HIV got marked pain relief from pot-even on top of prescription pain medications.”
Another clinical study was conducted in the US Sand Diego School of Medicine evaluated “30 adult patients with multiple sclerosis. This study shown that smoked cannabis may be an effective treatment for spasticity- a common and disabling symptom of this neurological disease” (Wolfson, T., Gamst, A., Jin, S., Marcotte, T., Bently, H &Gouaux, B., 2012). These studies are a significant step in providing evidence to the federal government that the law needs to change the classification of marijuana so that people like those with HIV and multiple sclerosis can have access to medical marijuana without the fear of being arrested.
There are currently 18 states that have passed legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana. Each state has different regulations in regards to the policies about the prescription and distribution of medical marijuana. One of the states that has recently legalized medical marijuana use is Connecticut. May 2012 a bill legalized marijuana for medical purposes was passed. “State senators voted 21-13 in favor of the measure…after nearly 10 hours of debate…The Connecticut bill outlines specific diseases that would be treated under the drug. It requires a recommendation from an individual’s physician and establishes a system of licensing for patients, caregivers and growers” (Young, S. 2012). Even with the state passing this bill it still leaves a grey area for those involved with the marijuana.
Legislation has been introduced again this year to advocate for the federal law to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal use. The article written by Lee Rannals (2013) reports on the legislation he wants to pass:
His law not only provides a better black-and-white scenario rather than the gray area the government works with now, but also would see to it the government benefits from a tax on the drug. These inconsistencies create significant challenges for both patients and the businesses working to provide access to medical marijuana. Because of federal tax and banking laws, marijuana businesses–despite operating in compliance with state or local law–are not allowed to deduct their legitimate business expenses and are often unable to make deposits or maintain bank accounts.
But, without the change in classification marijuana will remain a schedule I drug and not be considered medicinally beneficial. However, the DEA has created significant roadblocks because the they state the only way that marijuana could be a schedule II drug would be if there was proof that this drug had medical benefits; but the DEA restricts researchers from conducting studies to provide proof that there is therapeutic effects of the drug. The government reportedly rather invest in companies and researchers that are willing to favor the government’s beliefs and therefore, support the schedule I classification.
Medicinal marijuana has been utilized thousands of years. The ACLU (2012) summarizes the frustrations that individual states that have passed bills allowing the use of medical marijuana; medical doctors as well as their patients; have with the federal government:
Despite the scientifically proven benefits of medical marijuana, and even though nearly one-third of states have recognized those benefits, the federal government continues to ignore the facts, criminalize medical marijuana and obstruct further research into its medical benefits. In fact, the federal government categorizes drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine less seriously and thus permits such drugs to be prescribed where appropriate while prohibiting the prescription of marijuana to seriously ill patients. Stubbornly denying the medical benefits of marijuana – and thus treating it differently than more serious drugs subject to extreme abuse – is scientifically unsound and deprives seriously ill patients of much-needed pain relief.
Medical marijuana has shown in numerous studies that there is a beneficial component to its use. The individuals that utilize marijuana to be able to just function normally without pain or severe nausea should be able to utilize this medicinal treatment if no other medication works.
If the federal government would lower the Schedule of marijuana the government would be able to regulate the marijuana used for medical purposes and control the costs. Patients would not have to use drug dealers if their individual states do not have bills allowing the use of medical marijuana. In turn the drug trade would have a huge blow and the government would be able to reap the financial benefits of controlling this substance just like they do with other drugs through taxes.
ACLU. (2012). Medical Marijuana. American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved from http://www.aclu.org/medical-marijuana-0.
Drug Policy Alliance (2013). Medical Marijuana. Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved from http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/medical-marijuana.
Grinspoon, L. (2005). History of Cannabis as a Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.maps.org/mmj/grinspoon_history_cannabis_medicine.pdf.
Hecht, P. (2012). California pot research backs therapeutic claims. The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved from http://www.sacbee.com/2012/07/12/4625608/california-pot-research-backs.html.
Rannals, L. (2013). Medical Marijuana Proposal Seeks Legalization Under Federal Law. RedOrbit. Retrieved from http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1112792042/medical-marijuana-federal-legalization-022613/.
Wolfson, T., Gamst, A., Jin, S., Marcotte, T., Bently, H &Gouaux, B. (2012). Smoked Cannabis Reduces Some Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. UC San Diego Health System. Retrieved from http://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2012-05-14-smoked-cannabis-reduces-symptoms-of-multiple-sclerosis.aspx.
Young, S. (2012). Medical Marijuana Bill Passed By Connecticut Senate. Huff Post Politics. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/05/medical-marijuana-connecticut_n_1483670.html.