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More MS news articles for April 2004

Marijuana reform group wins booth

Friday, April 16, 2004
Mark Ziats
The Tiger

The annual 3 Rivers Musical Festival, a four day outdoor event boasting the slogan "Bringing out the BEST in Columbia!" is bringing more to the State's capitol than just musicians this year.

Controversy has been rampant ever since festival organizers initially denied the Columbia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) a booth at the festival. Following the original rejection of NORML's booth, organizers received complaint letters from the South Carolina American Civil Liberties Union, demanding that NORML be allowed to attend.

3 Rivers organizers have since agreed to give NORML a booth, but the issue of marijuana is still a hot topic in the capitol. According to festival directors, several people complained last year when NORML members tried to hand them literature.

NORML is a non-profit, public interest lobby group that has been in existence for more than 30 years.

They claim to "represent the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly and believe the recreational and medical use of marijuana should no longer be a crime."

NORML supports the removal of all criminal penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including the cultivation for personal use, and the casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts -- known as "decriminalization."

According to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, more than 83 million Americans -- 37 percent -- aged 12 and older admit to trying marijuana at least once in their lives.

Using statistics such as these for rationale, NORML's argument centers around the idea that penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.

Despite NORML's efforts, little progress has been made domestically to legalize the drug.

In South Carolina alone, more than 14,000 adults on average are arrested yearly, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). Nationally there were almost 1 million marijuana arrests in the year 2000 -- more than an eighty percent increase since the 1970s.

This "War on Drugs," a term coined by President Nixon in 1972, is another aspect advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana commonly cite in their arguments.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the United States Federal Government spent $19.179 billion dollars in 2003 on the War on Drugs, and State and local governments spent at least another 20 billion. NORML believes these funds -- $40 billion a year -- could be spent more effectively elsewhere.

Critics of the War on Drugs advocate the partial or complete decriminalization of marijuana, combined with a system of regulation, as happens with alcohol and prescription drugs. They believe that by providing legal supplies of currently illegal drugs the price will fall, leading to a collapse in the illegal drug industry and a reduction in crimes committed by both drug suppliers and users. They also argue that the reduction in the price will lead to little, if any, growth in drug addiction, due to the inelasticity of demand.

Some even state that in a strictly regulated market, drug use may fall overall, by removing the marketing activities of the illegal drug industry.

On the other hand, proponents of the War on Drugs claim that the system is indeed effective.

For example, The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reported that drug use among teens leveled off between 1998 and 1999, and that marijuana use among teenagers declined to 41 percent in 1999, down from 44 percent in 1997.

Supporters claim that widespread developments like these do not receive the same amount of publicity as do arguments for decriminalization.

Recently, much controversy has surfaced surrounding the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use in the United States.

To date, ten states have legalized the use of medical marijuana -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- while many others are actively debating similar bills. The medical uses of marijuana for a variety of conditions are currently being investigated.

Marijuana has been proven to reduce fluid pressure in the eyes associated with glaucoma and numerous studies have shown that it can help reduce the pain and tremors of multiple sclerosis and suppress epileptic seizures.

Additionally, evidence reports that it has beneficial effects, including the relief of nausea of chemotherapy patients and an appetite stimulant for AIDS patients. Even though these findings may be true and some states have even allowed medicinal use, a large portion of Americans still do not support medical use.

Medicinal uses of THC (the active component in marijuana) are the principal emphasis in the research of Dr. John Huffman, a chemistry professor here at Clemson. The goals of his research include the potential development of new pharmaceutical products and an exploration of the geometry of THC receptors in the body.

"We are trying to develop new compounds, which will give insight into the manner in which THC interacts with mammalian organisms," Huffman said of his research. "We want to know how it interacts with the receptors, so you can pick apart the effects of THC -- be able to have something (a drug) that doesn't affect the spontaneous activity but still has the desirable benefits of THC."

In essence, the drug would not produce the "bad" effects associated with marijuana, such as impairment of motor skills and memory loss, while at the same time providing beneficial effects like inflammatory suppression and pain relief -- a feat that has yet to be accomplished in the pharmaceutical industry.

The American Medical Association says in its policy statement, in part, "The AMA believes that cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern."

There have been no statements released by the AMA that reflect a change in their policy -- even in light of such research findings.

Copyright © 2004, The Tiger