“Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” –Judge Francis Young
In 1988, Judge Francis Young, former chief administrative law judge at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, ruled in favor of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in its case for the legalization of medical marijuana.
Young was swayed by the fact that while it is possible to die from such legal medicines as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and even cough syrup, marijuana is entirely safe. There has never been a death attributed to an overdose of marijuana. If Young had his way, marijuana would be a Schedule II controlled substance, illegal for recreational use, but an acceptable prescription medicine.
Unfortunately, the case was then forwarded to John C. Lawn, then head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He swiftly overturned Young’s decision and the case was closed on the federal level. The decision was thus shifted to each individual state. California was the first to make medical marijuana available, and they have been quite successful in doing so; medical marijuana sales alone generate taxes of $220 million in the state.
Twelve other states have followed in California’s path. Some state governments — New Mexico was the first — have even chosen to grow the plant, cannabis sativa, as a way to regulate its distribution. Pennsylvania is not yet a medical marijuana state. This needs to change.
House Bill 1393, the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act, attempts to do just that. Under the bill, marijuana would become legal in medicinal cases. This bill needs to pass and the sooner the better.
Critics of medical marijuana often say that the substance is dangerous and leads to harder drugs, is highly addictive and habit forming, is detrimental to health and causes cancer, and that it is not a proven medicine. These are all false statements.
Institute of Medicine reports have shown that marijuana does not lead to harder drug use. Early use of alcohol and nicotine leads to harder drugs more often than marijuana does. The only proven connection between marijuana and hard drug use is the fact that most users are introduced to drug dealers through marijuana.
Legalizing medical marijuana would even help to reduce this connection, as it would partially sever the ties between marijuana and drug dealers by making the plant a regulated prescription drug. The only way to fully sever the ties to drug dealers would be to make marijuana completely legal, but that is a different argument.
Marijuana is not an addictive substance, with only 9 percent of users developing a habit. In comparison, 17 percent of all alcohol users develop dependence to the substance. Marijuana addiction also pales in comparison to most legal pharmaceuticals.
Yes, smoking marijuana is harmful to the lungs, but it is nowhere near as harmful as tobacco smoke. This is because a marijuana user smokes in far smaller amounts than a tobacco user.
Some scientists have indicated that while marijuana has medical uses, they cannot recommend it until there is a smokeless way of using it. The issue is that marijuana contains at least 400 other compounds, so to deliver just THC — marijuana’s most active compound — as the pill Marinol does, does not provide the entire positive effect of marijuana.
This means that smoking is the only way to use marijuana then, right?
Wrong. Many Los Angeles area medical marijuana dispensaries serve marijuana brownies, shakes, cookies and other pastries. They even sell butter with which patients can cook. These are all safe, nonsmoking ways of delivering marijuana’s benefits.
While smoking is ultimately the most effective way to deliver the effects, if the patient so desires, marijuana can be dispensed in many other ways. This leaves the supposed lack of medical benefits as the remaining roadblock between Pennsylvania and legal medical marijuana.
Marijuana has been proven to be beneficial to patients with a wide variety of ailments.
The Institute of Medicine concluded that for patients with HIV/AIDS, marijuana provides relief in a myriad of areas that no other one substance can. It helps as an appetite booster, an anti-depressant and a pain-reliever, and it fights nausea.
In cancer patients it can significantly reduce the negative effects of chemotherapy such as nausea.
Many multiple sclerosis patients use marijuana successfully to get relief from spasticity, nerve pain, tremors, sleeping disorders and depression. In addition, it also helps with chronic pain relief in all cases, and recent research has shown that it may have tumor-reducing and anti-carcinogenic properties. These are just a few of marijuana’s benefits.
Pennsylvania has denied its citizens a fundamental right, the right to treat their maladies with a safe medication, for far too long. Thirteen of our 50 states have acknowledged marijuana’s medicinal benefits so far, and President Obama declared that the federal government will now respect states’ rights on this issue.
So, Pennsylvania lawmakers, the ball — HB 1393 — is in your court. Let’s make it happen.
By REUBEN MITRANI