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Decision to smoke pot shouldn't involve doctor,0,5036230.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

May 12, 2003
By Jeffrey A. Schaler
The Baltimore Sun

THE ATTEMPT by drug policy reformers in Maryland to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes is bad medicine masquerading as harm reduction.

Marijuana is no more a medicine than is water. It is neither safe nor dangerous, good nor bad. Marijuana is a plant that people have a right to grow, purchase, sell, own and ingest as they see fit.

Anything can be labeled a medicine, just as anything can be diagnosed as a disease - provided the people applying the label and diagnosis have the authority to do so. It all depends on who says something is medicine, who is using it and for what purposes it is being used. Is water a medicine? Yes and no. If a person is dehydrated, water becomes a life-saving medicine.

Most of the time water is not medicine, despite the fact it is essential to our survival and consumed regularly. Is water safe or dangerous? People can safely drink and swim in it. When people consume too much water they may suffer from electrolyte imbalance. A person can drown in water. Does that make it dangerous? No. It all depends on how you use it.

Is water good or bad? The question is meaningless. Just as dangerous and safe are not properties we can detect through water analysis, there is no goodness or badness we can detect in water. Water is just water. A priest sees "holy" water. An atheist sees "plain" water. Doctors and scientists cannot tell the difference, only priests and theologians can. How can they tell the difference between holy water and secular water? By who uses the water, by the ways in which they use it, by the way it has been blessed and consecrated.

The same is true for marijuana. Medical marijuana advocates argue that marijuana is a panacea. Prohibitionists argue that marijuana is a panapathogen (something that causes illness). Who is right? Neither. It all depends on how you use it. Marijuana is no more medicine than water is medicine. And marijuana is just as dangerous as water.

So why all the fuss about marijuana as medicine? The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Could it be because those who hold that marijuana is medicine, safe and a panacea are not far away from those who think marijuana is bad, dangerous and a panapathogen? Both sides attribute nonexistent qualities to marijuana.

Is the fuss because people who want to smoke marijuana need it to treat any number of diseases such as glaucoma or multiple sclerosis or the nausea that often accompanies chemotherapy? Of course not. Plenty of effective drugs are available for these diseases and conditions.

Medical marijuana advocates hide behind sick people in order to get marijuana without penalty in order to get high. They believe the laws against marijuana possession and use are inhumane - and the laws are inhumane, but not for the reasons they state. The medical marijuana pushers lie about the drug just as much as the prohibitionists do.

The medicinal marijuana argument is as red a herring as they come. People have a right to use marijuana or any drug in any way they see fit - as medicine, as religious ritual, or simply to make themselves feel good, as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process.

However, the medical marijuana peddlers are not satisfied with such an honest and principled stand. They trust doctors to make lifestyle decisions for them. They want doctors in charge of who gives them their recreational drugs. Medicinal marijuana peddlers fear autonomy and embrace the paternalism of the therapeutic state.

Medicalizing marijuana, like medicalizing behavior, is bad medicine. Two wrongs don't make a right. The best solution to the harm created by drug prohibition is repeal of drug prohibition in its entirety. And that is a federal issue, not a state one.

Jeffrey A. Schaler teaches psychology at Johns Hopkins University and is the author of Addiction Is a Choice (Open Court Publishers, 2001).

Copyright © 2003 by The Baltimore Sun