Pubdate: Wed, 01 Feb 2012
Source: Daily Herald, The (Provo, UT)
Copyright: 2012 The Daily Herald
Author: Duane Jeffery, Professor Emeritus, Biology at Brigham Young University, Correspondent. 


Twenty or so years ago I had a student who spent her summers as a
Forest Service trail crew chief in northern California.

Knowing her area to be a hotbed of illegal marijuana growing, I asked
what she and her crew did when they encountered a patch of "weed."

"Our orders are clear," said she. "We immediately turn around and
leave, before we catch a [rifle] slug." Serious stuff, this mobile

Since that time, fans of marijuana have claimed that it is useful for
treating all sorts of medical conditions, including migraines,
arthritis, cancer, glaucoma and many conditions of hard-to-treat pain.
But federal law was and still is -- clear: Marijuana is classed as a
Schedule I substance, meaning that it has no accepted medical use but
possesses a high potential for abuse due to its psychoactive properties.

Public support for marijuana in California grew to the point, however,
that in 1996 voters passed the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), which
de-criminalized possession and use by the "seriously ill." But users
needed a recommendation from a licensed medical doctor in order to be
legal. This put California's doctors into a definite legal bind, and
they remain there to this day. "Recommending" the use of marijuana is
permissible by state law but illegal by federal law.

But the CUA, undoubtedly passed by voters some of whom were genuinely
compassionate, others just tired of the incessant squabbling, and
others with motivations focusing on abuse and monetary gain, left the
issue too open for even the meekest efforts of control. So in 2003,
the California legislature established rules for "medical-marijuana
dispensaries" (for example, retail outlets) and set some limits on how
many plants or how much processed marijuana one could possess. But it
also authorized counties and incorporated towns to set their own more
lenient standards if they wished. Is that a recipe for a nightmare?

The January/February issue of the magazine Miller-McCune has an
extensive article outlining just where the story of the state's most
valuable cash crop has gone from there. "Driving Miss Mary Jane" takes
us with a deliveryman, allegedly legal, taking a quantity of marijuana
from his state-legal growers in Humboldt County in the north,
southward through Mendocino County, then Sonoma County, Marin County
and into Alameda County to its final destination. Each of those
counties has different regulations, so the deliveryman runs a gauntlet
of differing probabilities for arrest and penalties if caught.

Additionally, the "medical-marijuana dispensaries" have bloomed to
more than 1,000 statewide, and no disinterested person will pretend
the business is all medically legitimate. Many physicians are known to
be "pot-friendly" and will give recommendations virtually on request,
or at least for a fee. So it becomes necessary to distinguish between
"medical marijuana" and "recreational marijuana" in any significant

The California Medical Association, the state's largest organization
of physicians, released this past October a formal White Paper
(available online) of recommendations. They disdain the term marijuana
and use instead the more formal name cannabis for the plant and its
products. They recommend that cannabis be rescheduled by the federal
government so as to facilitate formal research, that recreational
cannabis be legal but regulated as is done with alcohol and tobacco,
that the state tax the crop and its products, that there be increased
efforts to educate the public to the risks and benefits of cannabis,
and that there be efforts to induce the federal government to follow
its lead.

The overwhelming rationale: The unregulated material now on the market
is too diverse for proper medical evaluation. It must become regulated
so that formal research can identify any legitimate medical uses --
which are presently unestablished.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.