Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jun 2009
Source: Ashland Daily Tidings (OR)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Marie Myung-Ok Lee,  Special to the Los Angeles Times
Note: Lee teaches at Brown University and is working on a novel about 
medical malpractice.


I'm on the phone getting a recipe for hashish butter. Not from my 
dealer but from Lester Grinspoon, a physician and emeritus professor 
of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. And not for a party but for 
my 9-year-old son, who has autism, anxiety and digestive problems, 
all of which are helped by the analgesic and psychoactive properties 
of marijuana. I wouldn't be giving it to my child if I didn't think 
it was safe.

I came to marijuana while searching for a safer alternative to the 
powerful antipsychotic drugs, such as Risperdal, that are typically 
prescribed for children with autism and other behavioral disorders. 
There have been few studies on the long-term effects of these drugs 
on a growing child's brain, and in particular autism, a disorder 
whose biochemical mechanisms are poorly understood. But there is much 
documentation of the risks, which has caused the Food and Drug 
Administration to require the highest-level "black box" warnings of 
possible side effects that include permanent Parkinson's disease-like 
tremors, metabolic disorders and death. A panel of federal drug 
experts in 2008 urged physicians to use caution when prescribing 
these medicines to children, as they are the most susceptible to side effects.

We live in Rhode Island, one of more than a dozen states with medical 
marijuana laws. That makes giving our son cannabis for a medical 
condition legal. But we are limited in its use. We cannot take it on 
a plane on a visit to his grandmother in Minnesota.

Even though we are not breaking the law, I still wonder what my 
neighbors would think if they knew we were giving our son what most 
people think of only as an illegal "recreational" drug. Marijuana 
always has carried that illicit tang of danger -- "reefer madness" 
and foreign drug cartels. But in 1988, Drug Enforcement 
Administration Judge Francis L. Young, after two years of hearings, 
deemed marijuana "one of the safest therapeutically active substances 
known to man. .. In strict medical terms, marijuana is far safer than 
many foods we commonly consume."

Beyond helping people like my son, the reasons to legalize cannabis 
on a federal level are manifold. Anecdotal evidence from patients 
attests to its pain-relieving properties, and the benefits in 
quelling chemotherapy-induced nausea and wasting syndrome are well 
documented. Future studies might find even more important medical uses.

Including marijuana in the war on drugs has proved foolhardy -- and 
costly. By keeping marijuana illegal and prices high, illicit drug 
money from the U.S. sustains the murderous narco-traffickers in 
Mexico and elsewhere. In fact, after seeing how proximity to 
marijuana growers affected the small Mexican village of Alamos, where 
my husband spent much of his childhood, I was adamant about never 
entering into that economy of violence.

Because Rhode Island has no California-like medical marijuana 
dispensaries, the patient must apply for a medical marijuana license 
and then find a way to procure the cannabis. We floundered on our own 
until we connected with a local horticultural school graduate who 
agreed to provide our son's organic marijuana. But given the seedy 
underbelly of the illegal drug trade, combined with the current 
economic collapse, even our grower has to be mindful of not exposing 
himself to robbery.

Legalizing marijuana not only removes the incentives for this 
underground economy but would allow for regulation and taxation of 
the product, just like cigarettes and alcohol. The potential for 
abuse is there, as it is with any substance, but toxicology studies 
have not even been able to establish a lethal dose at typical-use levels.

Nor is it physically addicting, unlike your daily Starbucks, as 
anyone who has suffered from a caffeine withdrawal headache can attest.

Although it has been demonized for years, marijuana hasn't been 
illegal in the U.S. for that long. The cannabis plant became 
criminalized on a federal level in 1937, largely because of the 
efforts of one man, Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the then newly 
formed Bureau of Narcotics, largely through sensationalistic stories 
of murder and mayhem conducted supposedly under the influence of 
cannabis. Cannabis was still listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, or USP, 
until 1941 as a household drug useful for treating headaches, 
depression, menstrual cramps and toothaches, and drug companies 
worked to develop a stronger strain.

In 1938, Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York, appointed a committee 
to conduct the first in-depth study of marijuana's actual effects. It 
found that, despite the government's fervent claims, marijuana did 
not cause insanity or act as a gateway drug. It also found no 
scientific reason for its criminalization. In 1972, President Richard 
Nixon's Shafer Commission similarly concluded that cannabis should be 

Both recommendations were ignored, and since then billions of dollars 
have been spent enforcing the ban. Public policy analyst Jon Gettman, 
author of the 2007 report, "Lost Revenues and Other Costs of 
Marijuana Laws," estimated marijuana-related annual costs of law 
enforcement at $10.7 billion.

I was heartened to hear California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 
recent call for the U.S. to at least look at other nations' 
experiences with legalizing marijuana -- and to open a debate. And 
given the real security threats the nation faces, U.S. Attorney 
General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s announcement that the federal government 
no longer would conduct raids on legal medicinal marijuana 
dispensaries was a prudent move. Decriminalizing marijuana is the 
logical next step.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake