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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Legalization: A Step Forward or Backward?

The question of legalizing marijuana always seems to surface with great controversy. Marijuana has been used throughout history and in many different cultures to change mood, perception, and consciousness (to get "high"). After alcohol, it is the most popular of what are called "recreational drugs."

Would the United States be justified in legalizing the drug? The American College of Physicians ("Supporting Research Into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana," 2009) recently stated, "Additional research is needed to further clarify the therapeutic value of cannabinoids and determine optimal routes of administration. Unfortunately, research expansion has been hindered by a complicated federal approval process, limited availability of research-grade marijuana, and the debate over legalization."

Of course, much of the struggle to legalize marijuana has concentrated on medical uses for the drug. To investigate the process for procuring marijuana in states that have already legalized it, I chose to look into California's governing policy. Since 1996, thirteen states have legalized medical marijuana use: AK, CA, CO, HI, ME, MI, MT, NV, NM, OR, RI, VT, and WA.

According to www.helium.com, in California a certified doctor must perform a medical examination of the patient and document in the patient's records that there is a serious medical condition that would make marijuana appropriate.

Then, the patient, must apply for the Medical Marijuana Program in his/her county of residence with proof of residency, which can include: a California Drivers license or a California DMV Identification Card; a copy of the last months rent, mortgage, or utility bill; or a California DMV issued motor vehicle registration. All of these must contain the person's name and current address. If the patient is a minor, then the parents or guardians proof above may be used if they are both residents in the same county.

After that, the application is submitted to the county along with the proof of residence and proof of identity (Government issued photographic identification card). Minor applicants may use a certified copy of their Birth Certificates.

Then, the applicant will also need the written documentation in his/her medical records from the physician stating that he/she has a serious medical condition. A fee of $66.00 mucst be submitted or if the applicant is a Medi-Cal patient, the fee will be $33.00. However, each county has the right to charge different application fees.

But, on a little more biased website titled Nugget (/www.ehow.com) a post states that a person doesn't need to be a dying medical patient to receive medical marijuana: treatment can result from things such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc.

Nugget warns that although all doctors can give a person a medical marijuana recommendation, most won't. Nugget suggests "the need to find a marijuana friendly doctor in your area." The site suggests a visit web visit to www.canorml.org to find a marijuana friendly doctor. CANORML is the California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Nuggets also advises, "It will cost about $100-$200 for your visit to the marijuana doctor. This visit will not be covered on your insurance!!"

Nugget reports that people must have documented proof from their current doctor that they have a chronic condition. "Emphasis on CHRONIC." And the site suggest that when applicants go to their to current doctor to get medical records, they do not have to tell the doctor that they are using it just to get marijuana! Nugget says, "It's your personal business."

Also, Nugget advises, "When seeing the doctor make sure you state (even falsely? my comment) that you have or have had used marijuana and it relieves your symptoms without any side effects." The Supreme Court's ruled in 2005 ruled 6-3 that terminally ill patients who choose to use marijuana for medical reasons can now be subject to arrest and prosecution for violating the federal drug laws. The Court found that federal authorities may prosecute patients whose doctors prescribe medical marijuana despite state laws that allow its use. The federal drug laws that outlaw the use of medical marijuana trump laws that had allowed terminally ill patients to smoke marijuana for medical purposes.

It seems the Court went back to Congress' power to regulate commerce. The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce. And this kind of case, even though the court was just focused on marijuana -- homegrown, locally produced, grown specifically for medicinal purposes -- offers the likely tremendous effect on supply and demand in the nation's market as marijuana potentially affects interstate commerce.

So, my friends, legalization of marijuana, even for medical purposes will not be altogether honest and forthright. Many even believe that there is little future for or benefit from smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication. New problems will be created as people abuse the drug and the system.

How about total legalization? In Amsterdam, Holland, where marijuana is legal, crime and hard drug use remains a problem.

We know we live in times of increased problems with troubled youth. Is legalization going to help this tremendous ill? Mona W. Brown and Sheryl Massaro in "Troubled Teens Risk Rapid Dependence on Marijuana" (National Institutes of Health, 1998) reported on a study of 165 boys and 64 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 who had been referred by social service or criminal justice agencies to a university-based treatment program for delinquent, substance-involved adolescents. The study by Dr. Thomas Crowley, head of research, was taken from the spring issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, (Vol. 50, Issue 1).

Crowley cautions that these findings cannot be generalized to all adolescents. The studied youths had to have at least one diagnosis of drug dependence and three conduct disorder symptoms, including such things as frequent stealing, lying, running away, and, often, arrest. And, Most of the teens also reported that their behavioral problems predated, and were not initially caused by, their drug use.

Yet, to emphasize the importance of the findings on troubled youth, Crowley stated, "About 825,000 youths were arrested and formally processed by juvenile courts in 1994. About 50 percent of these youths tested positive for marijuana at the time of arrest and many fit the profile of the teens in this study, making them at high risk for marijuana dependence."

Here are some findings of the study of the marijuana dependent teens:

1. 97 percent said they still used after realizing marijuana had become a problem for them;
2. 85 percent noted that marijuana use interfered with driving and other situations at school, work, and home;
3. 77 percent spent much time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of marijuana;
4. 66 percent had given up important activities to use or acquire marijuana;
5. 53 percent felt they had lost control and were using marijuana in larger amounts for longer periods than intended; and
6. 35 percent wanted to cut back on use and had been unable to do so.

Like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana is a vice. Legalization of one more vice does not necessarily follow as a logical end because two already exist. Serious negative effects of legalization must be considered before the country takes the step of allowing everyone one more right to pleasure. The American College of Physicians is pleading for scholarly expanded research into the drug before implementation.

Here are some of the most common pro points for both sides of the legalization issue:

AGAINST

1. Marijuana is a stepping-stone drug leading to cocaine, heroin, or other harder drugs.
2. Driving under the influence and other dangerous activity would likely increase.
3. Any consideration of recreational drug use is a moral wrong.
4. Legalization will increase the opportunity of drug use by the underage population.
5. Because of their associated drug use, people who have committed or are likely to commit more serious crimes are taken off the street with marijuana offenses.
6. Physical and possible psychological damage results when people abuse the drug.
7. More widespread use increases the danger of second-hand smoke damage to others.
8. Use increases problems with memory and learning such as thinking and problem solving.
9. Use may increase sudden feelings of anxiety and and paranoia.
10. Smoking marijuana during pregnancy can increase the chance of miscarriage, low birth-weight, premature births, developmental delays, and behavioral and learning problems  

FOR

1. If used in moderation, marijuana isn't any more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.
2. Limiting the use intrudes on personal freedom.
3. Legalization would cause lower price thus related crimes like theft would be reduced.
4. Medical benefits exists, especially for cancer patients.
5. Street justice related to drug disputes would be reduced.
6. Legalization could be a source for additional tax revenues.
7. Police and court resources would be more freed up for more serious crimes.
8. Drug dealers (including terrorists) would lose business.
9. The FDA or others could regulate the quality and safety of drugs.
10. Drug busts often trap young people in a flawed system that turns them into lifelong criminals.

"When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it, and I didn’t inhale, and I never tried again." --Bill Clinton
 
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