Pubdate: Tue, 25 Feb 2014
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Citizens' Voice
Author: Donna Brazile, Universal Press Syndicate
Page: 15


It seems marijuana - at least for medical use - is sweeping the
nation. More than 20 states and the District of Columbia have either
legalized medical marijuana or decriminalized its possession, and in
two states, Colorado and Washington, voters recently legalized its
recreational use. The Denver Post even appointed a Marijuana editor.

The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.,
found in September that, "For the first time in more than four decades
of polling ... a majority (52 percent) of Americans favor legalizing
the use of marijuana." In June, they found that nearly half of
Americans had smoked marijuana, up from 40 percent three years ago -
and 12 percent had done so recently.

Half of baby boomers now favor legalization. And 72 percent of
Americans say it isn't worth the federal government's time and money
to enforce federal laws against marijuana. Agreement on this last
point breaches even the partisan divide. Rather, the division is
between conservatives in both parties on one side, and moderates and
liberals on the other.

But what about the Bible Belt - the Deep South? In 2010, CNBC found
that "in most states legalization is not even on the horizon," while
some were "vehemently opposed." Florida and Louisiana were the two
most "cannabis nongratis" states. Florida has the toughest
anti-marijuana laws - a $6,000 fine and five years in the slammer for
possessing one ounce. CNBC found its marijuana laws were only "getting

In Louisiana (my home state), I wasn't surprised that the editor of
LaPolitics, Joe Maginnis, observed that Louisiana "is not a culture of
where marijuana is accepted."

Except that today, the reverse is true. Last month, the Florida
Supreme Court approved the language for a constitutional amendment to
legalize medical marijuana three days before citizens gathered enough
signatures to place it on the November ballot. And NORML, a group
working to reform marijuana laws, reports an American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) poll found that 53 percent of Louisianans favor
legalizing recreational marijuana. Support for legalizing marijuana
"is blooming in the South," it said.

Indeed it is. In Kentucky (where citizens are so politically
conservative that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is considered
by some to be too liberal), a recent poll found 52 percent favor
medical marijuana, while only 37 percent opposed it. (The remainder,
12 percent, were "not sure.")

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo told the Lexington Herald-Leader,
"There does seem to be in the public a growing awareness that the
medical marijuana issue is different from the drug issue." This week,
Kentucky state Sen. Julie Denton, a Republican, filed a bill that
would permit the use of cannabidiol, marijuana in controlled oral
doses, which reduces seizures in children.

In Alabama, state Rep. Mike Ball, a former hostage negotiator for the
state highway patrol, backs a bill to permit cannabis oil. "The
political fear is shifting from what will happen if we pass it, to
what might happen if we don't," Ball told the Associated Press. CNN's
chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, made a public apology
for an article he wrote for Time magazine in 2009, opposing legalizing

Dr. Gupta now finds compelling medical evidence that marijuana does
have medical uses. And in some cases, marijuana is the only recourse.
Gupta cites the case of Charlotte Figi, a child he met in Colorado.
She had seizures at birth; by age 3, was having more than 300 seizures
a day and was on seven different medications at once. Today, her
"brain is calmed" by cannabis oil, and she is down to about three
seizures a month.

"We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years
in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that," Gupta
wrote on the CNN Health website. Voters appear to be coming to the
same conclusion. More than one-third of the states have initiatives on
marijuana on this fall's ballots. Among those states considering
marijuana legislation are Southern states like Mississippi, Kentucky,
Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana.

In fact, the current push to legalize medical marijuana is a
renaissance of legislation that was passed in the 1970s after a
presidential commission recommended decriminalizing marijuana. New
Mexico was the first state to act, in 1978, and Louisiana, Florida and
Illinois followed the same year. Georgia did so in 1981. According to
the International Business Times, "Thirty-four states adopted laws
recognizing the medical benefits of cannabis between 1978 and 1982."

However, a get-tough-on-drug-users atmosphere then swept the nation,
and most of the laws were not funded, shut down or simply ignored.
Now, existing laws may be revived to ease the transition to legalizing
medical marijuana.

In 1982, Georgia enacted the Medical Marijuana Necessities Act, (now
called the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Program). It
cited restrictive federal laws that impeded clinical trials for
medical marijuana and "insufficient funding," to properly explore
medical marijuana.

Now, like Dr. Gupta says, the evidence is in. And the South may
finally be ready to resume a leading role in the legal use of medical
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