Thoughts on Medicinal Marijuana
By Ken K. Gourdin
Should marijuana be legalized for medicinal purposes? Should it be legalized for recreational purposes? The question came up on an LDS-oriented site I frequent what might happen in the Church if legalization were to become widespread. The Church is well-known for the fact that its members eschew alcohol, tobacco, coffee, non-herbal tea, and harmful drugs. Here’s my contribution to that conversation:
If there are compounds in marijuana which provide specific benefits (e.g., compounds that relieve pain, are anti-emetic, which promote appetite among those whose treatments [and conditions] otherwise would leave them emaciated, and so on) I would promote legalization for the narrow purpose of isolating and studying those compounds and their purported effects. But there’s an old saying that even if one picks up a snake by the tail, one picks up its head, as well.
I don’t think it’s wise to pretend that this “snake” doesn’t have a head just because we want to pick it up by the tail. It’s not as though marijuana doesn’t have any harmful, potentially unpleasant, or unintended side effects, and anyone who insists otherwise essentially is saying he wants to pick up a snake by the tail without regard for whether the snake might turn on him. Marijuana is reported to have compounds with purportedly-beneficial effects. Fine: isolate those compounds, test them to provide empirical data of their effectiveness, standardize their production, and make them available for medicinal purposes.1
While I lack a ready reference, some have said that it’s not uncommon in doctors offices and “pot shops” to hear people joke about how easy it is to get a prescription for marijuana and about the triviality of the “ailments” they have reported in order to be allowed do so. Indeed, consistent with this observation, Director of the Drug Policy Institute and Associate Professor at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine Dr. Kevin Sabet notes that in California, the law has evolved from its original intent to prevent the legitimately and seriously ill from having to interact with street dealers in order to obtain relief for their ailments. “. . . ‘[M]edical’ marijuana,” Sabet says, “has become a sad joke. Scantily clad ‘caregivers’ and a few unscrupulous ‘on-call’ doctors line beaches and boulevards promoting marijuana use for everything from back pain to headaches.”2 Professor Sabet also notes that before the Los Angeles City Council shut down all 900 medical marijuana storefronts in July 2012, they had become “magnet[s] for crime, nuisance, and addiction.”3
And while medical marijuana may be legal in California, many appear to be skirting the controls the law put in place to ensure that marijuana is dispensed only to those with legitimate, non-frivolous medical needs. As reporters at NBC Channel 4 in Los Angeles note, “Some Southern California doctors are signing prescriptions for medical marijuana without ever examining or even meeting the patients, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found. Authorities say this practice is clearly against the law, but it is providing a steady stream of customers for the pot shops.”4 One also wonders if medical professionals who prescribe marijuana might not be getting “kickbacks” from the shops to which they refer their patients. (To be fair, a similar criticism has been leveled against prescribers who prescribe other drugs in which they have financial interests.)
Bottom line? As I said in the beginning, if marijuana components have legitimate medical benefits, let’s undertake empirical study rigorous enough to ferret them out. Once that has been done, let’s standardize production of those compounds and make them available legally.
|1.||Ken K. Gourdin (January 18, 2014) Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board, “Marijuana And The Word of Wisdom” thread, post no. 10 (10:15 a.m. PST, post ID 1209335923) main site last accessed on January 18, 2014 at http://www.mormondialogue.org. Legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes may be a back door to legalizing it recreationally, and legalizing it recreationally may carry with it its own set of problems and challenges. Saying, “No problem. We’ll just treat marijuana the same as we treat other legal-but-regulated substances, like alcohol,” ignores the facts that marijuana isn’t alcohol and that the two substances affect the body differently. For example, it’s relatively easy to determine how much alcohol one can consume in a given time period and yet still safely operate a motor vehicle, accounting for other factors such as weight, tolerance, food consumption, and so on. Not so in the case of marijuana. Differing sources may have widely varying levels of THC, consuming the same amount may have a widely varying effect on different people, the body metabolizes THC differently than it does alcohol, and so on.|
|2.||Kevin Sabet (July 25, 2012) “Medical Marijuana: Buyers’ Remorse in California Reaches New Heights,” (Blog entry) accessed http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-a-sabet-phd/medical-marijuana-buyers-_b_1704230.html on January 18, 2014.|
|4.||Joel Grover, Chris Henao and Phil Drechler (November 13, 2013) “Investigation: Who’s Really Writing Pot Prescriptions?” accessed at the following address on January 18, 2014: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/NBC4-I-Team-Investigation-Medical-Marijuana-Pot-Shop-Dispensary-LA-Recommendation-165823936.html.|