Pubdate: Sun, 13 Mar 2011 Source: Record, The (Stockton, CA) Copyright: 2011 The Record Contact: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=A_OPINION05 Website: http://www.recordnet.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/428 Author: Dana M. Nichols DEBATE OVER MEDICAL MARIJUANA'S BENEFITS RAGES ON Medical research has done little to quell the larger social, legal and political controversies over legalizing marijuana. California and a number of other states have legalized pot for medical purposes, while the federal government still classifies marijuana as a dangerous narcotic same as heroin. In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration declared that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and is unsafe. The federal agency also said, "There are alternative FDA-approved medications in existence for treatment of many of the proposed uses of smoked marijuana." Critics, including some in Congress, attacked that statement, pointing out its lack of research. The FDA was further accused of protecting pharmaceutical companies with government-approved products that compete with marijuana. The University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research in San Diego came to exactly the opposite conclusion. Last summer, the center issued a summary of 15 studies it was conducting, including nine that were complete. The report found that medical marijuana offers a treatment option for patients with pain or suffering from multiple sclerosis who "do not respond or respond inadequately to currently available therapies." And so the debate rages on. The American Medical Association conducted its own review and concluded that pot can ease pain, stimulate appetite and help multiple sclerosis patients. Cultural conflicts also surround marijuana. During the decade before the federal government outlawed marijuana in 1937, newspapers portrayed it as something used by Mexican immigrants and blacks. In the 1960s, smoking pot became an iconic part of the counter-culture movement. Today, many people believe the legalization of marijuana for medical treatment has increased drug use by teenagers. John Van Dyck, a substance abuse counselor for Calaveras County Behavioral Health Services, works with teens. Van Dyck said the presence of medical marijuana patients and dispensaries hasn't changed the availability of marijuana to teens. "It is far easier for them to get marijuana than for them to get alcohol," he said. "They can get it in whatever quantity they want." He also said that in the past 15 years, legalized pot and the colorful names attached to it have had some influence on youth culture. "It has heightened their awareness as to the quality of marijuana," Van Dyck said. "These kids are becoming connoisseurs." There are also those who believe the money involved will be a magnet for crime. "When you put money and drugs together in one place, somebody is going to exploit it," said Stockton City Councilman Elbert Holman Jr., a former chief investigator for the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office and the only member of the council to vote against the city's ordinance allowing dispensaries. Holman said he believes that medical marijuana does offer benefits to some patients, but he'd prefer to see it sold through pharmacies alongside other medications. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.