Pubdate: Tue, 01 Feb 2011
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2011 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Mitch Earleywine
Note: Mitch Earleywine is a professor of psychology at the University 
of Albany, State University of New York.
Bookmark: (Florida)



Marijuana prohibition has failed, and in the never-ending quest for
excuses, the medical marijuana movement appears to be the latest
scapegoat. In a column that ran in this space on Jan. 11, "Ho hum
attitude toward pot has more teens lighting up," Dr. Joel Kaufman
attempted to prop up this rationalization.

At one point, he claimed that "data shows (sic) that in almost every
state that has passed a medical marijuana law, youth have increased
the frequency of marijuana use in the past 30 days." That might be
true, but the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, on
which the claim is based, doesn't actually track frequency of use
within a 30-day period, so I would have no way of knowing. More
importantly, though, it doesn't tell you anything about what effect,
if any, state medical marijuana laws have had on teen marijuana use
trends in those states. To understand that, you would have to compare
use rates before and after a medical marijuana law took effect in each
of those states.

In a report I co-authored for the Marijuana Policy Project, I did just
that. Today, 15 states have passed medical marijuana laws. It turns
out that, according to the latest data, of the 13 medical marijuana
states with available before-and-after data (New Jersey and Arizona's
laws were passed too recently to find post-enactment data), teen
marijuana use is down in 10 of the 13, stable in one, and up slightly
in only two. Coincidentally, the three states with use rates that
haven't gone down are the three states that passed their laws most
recently -- Rhode Island, New Mexico and Michigan -- during a period in
which teen use rates are up nationwide.

Even in California, often labeled as the wild, wild, west of medical
marijuana states, the percentage of teens using marijuana is lower
today than it was in 1996, when it became the first state to pass a
medical marijuana law.

What's even more troubling is the continued assertions by the drug
czar and others that medical marijuana is some devious, underhanded
step toward legalization. Myriad scientific studies too numerous to
count have demonstrated marijuana's efficacy in treating pain, nausea,
muscle spasticity and other symptoms. Just last year, researchers at
the University of California's Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research
found that marijuana can be effective in treating pain in certain
syndromes caused by injury or diseases of the nervous system, as well
as painful muscle spasms such as those caused by multiple sclerosis.
Even the prestigious Institute of Medicine, in a 1999 report
commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, declared,
"[n]ausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety are all afflictions of
wasting, and all can be mitigated by marijuana."

Marijuana can also help some patients reduce or eliminate their
reliance on dangerous opiate-based narcotics -- OxyContin, Vicoden and
other drugs that, unlike marijuana, can actually kill you.

Another way to find out whether marijuana holds potential for medical
use is to ask the experts. The American Public Health Association,
American Nurses Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, National
Academy of HIV Medicine, two former U.S. surgeon generals, and
hundreds of other medical professional groups all say that marijuana
should be available to patients whose doctors recommend it.

You can argue all you like that medical marijuana laws are somehow
behind the recent rise in teen marijuana use, but you won't find any
support in the statistics. More importantly, you cannot deny the
reality that such laws have helped thousands of patients cope with
debilitating illnesses and retain some semblance of normalcy in their
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake