Pubdate: Sun, 13 Mar 2011
Source: Record, The (Stockton, CA)
Copyright: 2011 The Record
Author: Dana M. Nichols


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

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. 
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