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logoSmart Decisions: Medical Marijuana

Brett Carlson

            Picture in your mind a young girl that is almost done with her freshman year of high school.  These next few years are supposed to be some of the best years of this girl’s life.  But instead of this young girl worrying about what clothes she is going to wear, or how she is going to style her hair, she has to worry about side effects of chemotherapy.  Melinda has been diagnosed with Hodskins Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes, at age fifteen.  When all the other fifteen-year-old girls are busy chasing boys and dealing will all the drama that comes with high school Melinda is in the hospital getting blood transfusions because the chemo has depleted her of necessary cells. 

            The chemo that Melinda has transfused into her has many side effects that come with it.  The chemo basically kills a person in order to kill the cancer cells.  These side effects include nausea, intense pain and a loss of appetite.  There is only one drug that exists today that has the potential to cure all of the above side effects, and that is marijuana.  This drug is currently illegal, and doctors cannot prescribe it to patients.

            This issue affects college students because we are the ones that are going to play a role in this debate in the future.  Many of us are going to become doctors, FBI agents, or United States Senators.  That is why college students need to be informed about this complex issue.  We are the ones that are going to be making decisions about this issue later on in our lives.

              The debate on legalizing marijuana for medical use is not just a simple pro/con debate.  It is a very complex issue that has many different approaches to it, and in each of the approaches there are differences of opinion.  Three main sides to this debate are the medical approach, government and enforcement approach, and the lawmaker approach.

            The medical approach consists of doctors that treat cancer patients, and cultural beliefs that since marijuana is illegal it should not be used at all.  Some doctors and people of the public believe that marijuana should be used to treat side effects of chemotherapy, and other doctors and people of the public believe that it should not be used as a medicine. 

            Many doctors believe that marijuana works as a great pain killer, appetite increaser, and it reduced nausea.   Since the legalization of medicinal marijuana in California, many patients have said that marijuana is the only thing that helps achieve symptom relief (Eidelman). In some cases patients report that marijuana enhances the effects of prescription drugs, which might have been helping, but not enough (Eidelman).  Dr. Eidelmen, a physician in California that supports marijuana, is a firm believer that marijuana is a great asset for treating cancer patients.  Not only does it help relive side effects from the chemo, it also works together with drugs already prescribed to them. 

            Not all doctors, however, believe that marijuana should be used to treat side effects in cancer patients.  According to Dr. Hiebert, a doctor that uses hypnosis to help people quit smoking marijuana,  “There is no concrete evidence that marijuana has any medical value.  Dr. Hiebert claims that,  “Smoking marijuana makes glaucoma and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis worse, not better.” Dr. Hiebert has the exact opposite opinion from the other physicians above.  He believes that marijuana does not have any positive effects on the human system.  The only thing that marijuana does to the system is damage it. 

            Another part of the medical approach is the cultural belief that since marijuana is illegal it could not be a medicine.  The general public trusts the government’s decision in making it illegal.  Since the government made it an illegal substance it could only be harmful to you.  “If the drug is harmful to you, then how can it ever be used as a medicine”, said Randall Schamp, a hard working American.  Many people share this same opinion, which will not help physicians that want marijuana legal for medical reasons convince the public to allow that to happen.

            The lawmaker approach, which consists of people in the judicial system, are the ones that make the final decisions in issues like medical marijuana.  The US Supreme Court has opened hearings on whether the distribution of marijuana for medical purposes should become legal under federal law (Josefson). The case has been prompted by legislation in California in 1996 allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes (Josefson). This is showing that some courts are showing leniency towards marijuana.  Most people believe that the courts are very strict on the issue of legalizing marijuana, but this article shows us the exact opposite.  The courts are not always straight edge when is comes to marijuana.

            Federal courts are very serious about the reasons why marijuana is illegal, and aim to keep it illegal.  A House Judiciary panel passed a resolution rejecting the legalization of marijuana for medical use (Alcoholism Reports).  Marijuana is labeled as a dangerous and addictive drug, because it falls under the Controlled Substances Act.  Do to this fact the conclusion has been made that marijuana is physically and psychologically damaging, no matter what it is used for (Alcoholism Reports).  According to the annual Alcoholism report the federal judicial branch is not in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical reasons at all.  They believe that it is just as dangerous as cocaine.  That it is just as damaging and addicting as any illegal drug out there. 

            The government and enforcement approach has a lot of influence on whether or not marijuana will be legalized for medical uses.  In states where marijuana has been voted to be legal for medical purposes, governmental officials still use their power to encourage people not to use marijuana for any reasons.  Within weeks after voters in Arizona approves propositions allowing physicians to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes the Attorney General sprang into action (Kassirer). Attorney Janet Reno announced that physicians in any state who prescribed the drug could lose the privilege of writing prescriptions.  This shows that the federal government has power greater than the state governments, and it shows that the federal government does not approve of marijuana being used for medical reasons. 

            It is not just the federal government that is opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical uses.  Here in Colorado Senator Wayne Allard is opposed to the entire idea.  In an e-mail I received Senator Wayne Allard said, “I have not supported any legislation that would provide therapeutic use of marijuana to treat illness.”  He supported his stance on the debate by saying, “The Food and Drug Administration has rejected marijuana for medical use in the past and has discontinued its single patient investigational new drug program for therapeutic marijuana due to a lack of support for beneficial claims.”  After reading this letter from my Senator I have learned that republicans in Colorado do not support using marijuana for medical use.  I also learned that the FDA had totally given up on researching benefits that marijuana could give to people suffering from cancer. 

            The government officials have their influence on this debate, but the police also have their say.  The most difficult part for police officers is going to be determining who can legally possess marijuana.  Also, in states that have made medical marijuana legal, it is still against federal law to smoke it.  In the six states that marijuana has been voted to be legal to use for medical purposes, federal law still requires them to prosecute any cancer patient smoking a bong (Hornblower).  This leads to much confusion for the law enforcers.  They do not know which individuals are allowed to posses and consume marijuana, so police officers will arrest anyone they see smoking marijuana.

            These confusions led Chief Brown of Arcata, California to take mug shots of those that can legally consume marijuana.  These mug shots are then printed on a “City of Arcada Proposition 215 Identification Card”.  Now when the legal user is smoking their marijuana they just have to show police officers their ID card and they will not be arrested (Hornblower).  The only exception to this is if you posses more than ten marijuana plants; the limit on plants is to distinguish users from illegal distribution.

            The debate over the legalization of marijuana for medical reasons has arguments from three main approaches: medical approach, lawmaker approach, and the government and law enforcement approach.  Having debates from these three sides of the issue prove that this issue is a very complex one, and it affects everyone especially the college students of this country.  The college students are the future of this country, and they are the ones that are going to be making the decisions on this issue in the future.  Educate yourselves on this subject, so that when making decisions on this subject later in life you make the smart one.