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Illegal Medicine

Updated on April 23, 2009
None for you. Sorry, but there's this prohibition thing...
None for you. Sorry, but there's this prohibition thing...

Who uses medical marijuana?

An elderly woman sits in her rocking chair, preparing for her next chemotherapy treatment. A former supermodel is recovering from anorexia, and trying to stimulate her appetite. An AIDS sufferer is trying to make it through the day with less pain. These three people are on different walks of life, but have something in common in our government’s eyes. Besides all being required to pay their taxes, these people are criminals. They are within the comfort of their own homes, and are showing no harm to anyone, but if caught they could face prison time and harsh fines.

Whether they seem to be criminals or not, they are definitely being charged that way. Marijuana laws vary from state to state; some are more lenient, while others have zero tolerance. For example, if caught with up to two pounds (907 grams) of marijuana in Arizona, a person can be charged with possession and could receive six to eighteen months in prison along with up to a $150,000 fine. In California, only one state to the west, possession of more than 28.5 grams will only land a person with six months prison time and a $500 fine. California also has medical marijuana laws which allow the use of cannabis as treatment to many medical maladies (“State by State Laws”). 

All across America there are people smoking marijuana – and they are not all the gun slinging, violent drug dealers that the media wants you to believe they are. In fact, a lot of them are smoking for the medical benefits that cannabis offers. Contrary to certain beliefs, the medical use of marijuana is not a new age ritual that can be categorized with treatments like aromatherapy and hypnotherapy; there is written evidence of its medicinal use over nearly the last 5,000 years. Marijuana has been known to help “pain relief … nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant … [and] may protect the body against some types of malignant tumors” (“Introduction”).

Should it be a legal alternative?

Though studies have been conducted that show the benefits of medical marijuana, there is still a huge debate about whether or not it should be legal for medicinal purposes. Thirteen states have passed laws approving medicinal use, including the recent addition of Michigan as of last November’s election. When they considered the many uses of medical marijuana, the Michigan Nurses Association said that “[they] felt very strongly that it should be an option” (Lane). Of course, as with other medications, everyone reacts in their own way, and medical marijuana may not be for everyone. However, it may be helpful to a lot of patients, and they should be given the opportunity to find out without the chance of being put in prison for it.

Some who oppose legalization of marijuana for medical use are concerned with the message that is being sent by showing marijuana in a good light. They are afraid that promoting smoking marijuana as a treatment will only hinder their anti-tobacco efforts (Lane). If they want us to believe that smoking marijuana is similar to smoking tobacco, then we must compare the two. According to an article on WebMD, tobacco is killing 5.4 million people each year (Hitti). In a separate WebMD article, it is noted that marijuana does not kill and a person cannot overdose on it (DeNoon). Marijuana does not need to be smoked to be beneficial; other forms of use include inhalation via vaporizers and consuming edibles. If there are no fatalities or known harmful side effects, it seems ridiculous that it is being lumped into a category with tobacco this way.   

Since the passing of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, physicians have been unable to legally prescribe marijuana (“Introduction”). Instead, patients are given drugs in pill form, which include highly addictive and dangerous prescription drugs like Vicodin and Oxycodone (oxycotton). When forced to rely on these harmful and addictive drugs, patients may end up dealing with their prescription drug addictions as much as with their initial medical problems.  There is also a pill called Marinol that is said to be all of the benefits of marijuana without the smoke, and it can be legally prescribed. When taking this, however, many chemotherapy patients are unable to feel the full effects of the drug, since they experience heavy nausea and it is difficult for them to take the pill (Lane).

Compared to other prescribed drugs, marijuana tests better with patients. An article in the Washington Post states that “AIDS patients suffering from debilitating nerve pain got as much or more relief by smoking marijuana as they would typically get from prescription drugs – and with fewer side effects” (Weiss). It is unfair to the suffering citizens of this free nation that they be forced to endure other, more harmful and addictive treatments or none at all.

What if it's the only medicine that helps more than it hurts?

For some patients, like Valerie A. Corral, medical marijuana is the only option. After surviving a car accident, Valerie began to suffer up to five grand mal seizures a day. She was forced to move back in with her parents so that someone was watching over her, and she was unable to work. Doctors tried seven different pain and anticonvulsant medications that only mildly dulled the pain and lowered the seizures to three a day. After taking these medications day after day, she began to be dependent on them, and they were so heavy that at times she felt as if she were “in a near vegetative state.” When Valerie tried marijuana as a medicine, her seizures slowed and she was eventually seizure free. She went from being dependent upon 15 pills per day to only smoking a few puffs of marijuana per day, and experienced anticonvulsant and pain relief in just one drug (“Valerie A. Corral”).

Since, in many cases, marijuana seems to be the only drug that helps more than it hurts, many patients seek it. Given that the buying and selling of marijuana is illegal, sufferers like Valerie that are looking for it are forced to deal with drug dealers and are sometimes put in potentially dangerous situations. If the patient is in any state other than the 13 that support it for medicinal use, when they are caught, they are going to be punished by law. This includes time in prison spent amongst hardened criminals. It is unjust that these people be put in dangerous situations and treated like criminals when they are only trying to ease the pain.

Aside from the fact that it is illegal, the other thing keeping patients from obtaining marijuana for medical purposes is the cost. In an interview, Lester Grinspoon, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, states that the majority of the price of marijuana on the street is solely because it’s illegal, the “prohibition tariff” (“Expert Opinions: Marijuana”). He believes that upon legalization and production of medical marijuana, the price will drop dramatically, much like penicillin. He predicts that the price for an ounce of cannabis will drop from roughly $200 to around $20. Since marijuana is still illegal – and therefore not covered by health care insurance – all money spent on the medicine is an out of pocket expense for the patient. If medical marijuana were made legal, patients would experience a dramatic decrease in the amount they are spending.

What is your opinion?

Do you think that medical marijuana should be legalized?

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What would happen if medical marijuana were legal?

If medical marijuana becomes legal in every state, patients across the nation would be able to decide for themselves whether or not it is the necessary medication – instead of just being told “no.” If the public becomes properly educated about the true benefits and risks of medical marijuana, patients will be able to make a knowledgeable decision based on facts – instead of listening to hearsay and the beliefs of others. Our federal government needs to approve and support medical marijuana use, as well as provide unbiased education for the people. As Valerie A. Corral has been quoted, “[we need doctors] who [practice] medicine, not law or politics” (“Valerie”).

No longer will the sick and terminally ill have to spend time behind bars with hardened criminals for medicating themselves in a way that is only legal in certain states. No longer will they have to find their medication from dangerous dealers on the black market, but in public places much like pharmacies. No longer will patients have to spend ridiculous amounts out of pocket for a product that may or may not be worth their money.

It is time for America to step up and protect the rights of the people, instead of wasting time and money incarcerating the weak. Who are we to decide which medication is best for these patients? Why not let them decide for themselves? After all, these patients did not ask for their illnesses, and one day it could be you searching for a way to ease the pain. Wouldn’t you want a choice?


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