Pubdate: Mon, 23 Mar 2015
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Column: RedBlueAmerica
Copyright: 2015 Appeal-Democrat
Authors: Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, Tribune News Service
Note: Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's 
City Journal. Joel Mathis is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.


A bipartisan trio of U.S. senators, New Jersey's Cory Booker, New 
York's Kirsten Gillibrand and Kentucky's Rand Paul, are sponsoring a 
bill to classify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, meaning the federal 
government would allow it to be used as medicine.

Some critics worry that such a bill could become a "gateway law" to 
full legalization of recreational weed; defenders say sick patients 
need the pain relief best provided by marijuana.

Should the bill get approval? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the 
RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

Medical marijuana should be a serious matter of public policy. Our 
medical marijuana laws, however, are a joke.

In 1996, Californians passed the Compassionate Use Act, the first 
state medical marijuana law in the nation. Proponents sold the 
measure as a matter of offering relief to patients with terminal 
illnesses. The week before the November election that year, ads 
featuring a nurse describing her husband's struggle with cancer and 
her efforts to ease his suffering with cannabis blanketed the 
airwaves. "God forbid someone you love may need it," Anna Boyce said.

Such emotional appeals tugged heartstrings and moved voters  the 
ballot measure passed with a solid 55 percent of the vote. Although 
it took several years for state and local officials to construct a 
rough approximation of a regulatory scheme, California eventually 
came to lead the nation in moving public opinion to favor medicinal marijuana.

But what became clear very quickly was just how expansive the 
definition of "medical necessity" can be when it comes to cannabis.

Yes, marijuana really can help AIDS and cancer patients, as well as 
people with glaucoma. And depending on whom you ask, marijuana can 
help with every other ailment known to man, from depression and 
anxiety to chronic migraines and frigidity.

Marijuana is such a miraculous drug that it can even remedy maladies 
unknown until just recently. Comedian Seth Rogen joked on the Conan 
O'Brien show a few years ago that he got his prescription for a 
specific ailment: "It's called 'I ain't got no weed on me right now.'"

Rogen Syndrome may be the fastest spreading disease in America today.

Legislators and policymakers should recognize medical marijuana for 
what it is, not what its supporters want to pretend it is. 
Path-breaking laws in California, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii and 19 other 
states and the District of Columbia have made it easier for gravely 
ill people to have some relief.

But those laws have also led to a kind of de facto legalization. It 
was a very small step for voters Colorado and Washington to embrace 
legalization without the patina of medical respectability.

Set aside the heart-wrenching appeals and genuflections to medical 
science. The debate we should be having is about the costs and 
consequences of legalization simply.

Yes, it's true: Drugs used to treat pain or relieve the symptoms of 
disease can often be used for recreational purposes.

That's true of marijuana. It's also true of OxyContin, Valium and 
Ritalin  three of the most-abused drugs in America  yet no one is 
trying to ban them from sale, or to prohibit doctors from using their 
best judgment in prescribing them to patients who can benefit from them.

The difference between marijuana and those lab-created drugs? 
Marijuana is probably safer. You can't really overdose on it, after all.

"In absolute terms, states with a medical marijuana law had about 
1,700 fewer opioid painkiller overdose deaths overall in 2010 alone 
than would be expected based on trends before the laws were passed," 
Colleen L. Barry, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School 
of Public Health in Baltimore, testified last year. "While medical 
marijuana laws have been controversial, our study indicates an 
important unintended benefit of state medical marijuana laws."

Is medical marijuana a gateway to full weed legalization? Not 
necessarily. We've lived a long time in this country with the 
understanding  however imperfectly executed  that the availability of 
prescription drugs doesn't imply society's approval for their 
recreational use. We could probably come to the same understanding with pot.

Would the advent of medical marijuana be abused by a few Seth Rogen 
types? Undoubtedly. And yet: So what? The existence of Seth Rogen has 
managed to annoy a North Korean dictator, but society itself doesn't 
seem much the worse for having him around and contributing, does it?

What does medical marijuana get us? Probable pain relief for those 
who need it. Reduced deaths for those who might rely on pills to get 
by. And, it seems, a few more "Reefer Madness" fantasies from folks 
who fear the results of compassion. How sad. How silly.

And how antiquated. Twentythree states have already passed medical 
marijuana laws. The issue has the backing of both Republicans and 
Democrats, who agree on little else these days. Prohibition usually 
hurts more than it helps. Let's get this new bill passed, and quickly.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom