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More MS news articles for November 2002

What's wrong with medical marijuana?

Nov 10, 2002

Virginia, believe it or not, is one of 14 states that allows the medical use of marijuana - but only on paper.

Since 1979, Virginia law has permitted doctors to prescribe marijuana for glaucoma and cancer patients, but apparently none do. It's illegal to grow, and as Dr. Christopher Desch, a cancer specialist, points out, "There is no way I can write a prescription for marijuana. To my knowledge, it's not stocked anywhere."

The state law carries no weight because it conflicts with federal policy prohibiting doctors from prescribing the drug. It was enacted in an era when supporters expected federal restrictions to be loosened up.

That hasn't happened despite state efforts to the contrary. California, along with Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado and Maine, actually allows the use of medical marijuana.

As sentiment for the legal use of medical marijuana continues to grow - a recent Time/CNN poll showed 80 percent of Americans think adults should be able to use it for medical purposes - the Bush administration decided to attack the medical pro-pot movement head-on.

In September, federal agents busted the farmers at Santa Cruz's Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana. The raid backfired when a paraplegic resident at the farm told reporters she awoke to five federal agents pointing assault weapons at her head, and ordering her to get up. She removed her respirator and explained that she was paralyzed. What a great use of taxpayers' dollars.

That raid serves as a perfect illustration of the hysteria that has become the trademark of the war on drugs under Bush's drug czar, John Walters. The anti-pot rhetoric has overtaken common sense.

If marijuana can relieve pain and suffering, why shouldn't it be permitted? It's arguably safer than many prescription drugs, which come with a list of warnings a mile long. Many argue that it's safer than alcohol.

Oddly enough, there is still a great deal of dispute about marijuana's medicinal value. People have been smoking marijuana for at least 5,000 years, but there is still not much scientific research on whether it's good or bad.

Marijuana has been reported to be effective in reducing pressure in glaucoma; reducing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; stimulating the appetite of patients living with AIDS and suffering from the wasting syndrome; controlling spasticity associated with spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis; decreasing the suffering from chronic pain; and controlling seizures associated with seizure disorders.

For the sick who have found relief smoking marijuana, it makes little sense that gun-wielding federal agents should waste time hauling them off to jail. Haven't they got real criminals to go after?

Indeed, most Americans find this obsession with marijuana entirely out of kilter. Seventy-two percent of Americans say people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana should be fined, not jailed.

While Americans want to lessen criminal penalties for marijuana use, the majority still don't want to make it legal, as evidenced on Election Day when attempts to soften marijuana laws were voted down in Nevada, Arizona and Ohio.

But using marijuana to relieve pain, as prescribed by doctors, should not be mixed up in the decriminalization debate.

Instead, the U.S. government should fund some definitive studies of the plant's medicinal value. It would be a better use of resources than arresting sick and dying people for lighting up a joint.

© 2002 Media General