The history of U.S. policy toward mind-altering substances has followed cycles of tolerance and intolerance ever since the mid-19th century. Walking into a smoked filled room, of young and old engaged in therapeutic activities for numerous health conditions, has been practice worldwide. In fact, the medical use of the cannabis plant goes back at least 5,000 years to ancient China. It was used by most of the world’s cultures for its healing properties (Medical Marijuana Cases 1). Today such conditions as Migraine headaches, Glaucoma, Cancer, Epilepsy, Asthma AIDS/HIV, Spinal injury, Muscle spasms, Insomnia etc., could be treated for symptomatic relief with cannabis or cannabis extract. However, marijuana is still considered an illegal drug in most states in the United States.
Marijuana usage may have been common 20-30 years ago, but it really isn’t any longer. Judy Foreman states that a hardy band of activists seeking legislative approval of perennial bill that would bring Massachusetts in line with 34 other states in letting patients with certain conditions smoke marijuana (1). 2 What was known, as the “wicked weed” of the sixties can be good medicine . Marijuana certainly seems safer than may other drugs, even aspirin that causes gastrointestinal bleeding, killing hundreds of people every year (Grinspoon/Bakalar 4).3 There are lots of drugs American society does not let people use except under doctor’s care, for instance, cocaine, Demerol, est. No one
thinks we have legalized cocaine because we let surgeon or anesthesiologists use it. Therefore, the notion that there is a link between medical use and whether people
should to be able to legally get stoned is nonsense. One situation does not necessarily include the other. Nevertheless, there has not been a single death by overdose (Foreman 4).2 As an enlightened society, we must reconsider the legalization of marijuana for medical use only as it eases pain and suffering of many illnesses.
To effect changing the attitudes within our society about marijuana, one must be realistic about the legislation of our own bodies. Right now cocaine and morphine are prescribed legally as medicines, and those legal uses are not adding in any significant way to the country drug problem. While experts debate the medical use of marijuana, patients in Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Alameda County are lining up at Cannabis Buyers’ Club to receive the drug. Despite the coffee house atmosphere at the Cannabis Buyers’ Club marijuana remains illegal. Although some chronically ill people and their physicians argue that the drug eases their pain and suffering, the question still is fiercely debated by law enforcement and the medical community (Donnelly 1-2).4 Modeled after underground pharmacies that provide AIDS patients with unapproved drugs, Buyer’s Clubs have existed informally for at least 15 years. Nevertheless, whether there’s a medical need still is debatable. On the other hand, officials at the U.S. Drugs Enforcement Administration insist there are few, if any therapeutic uses of marijuana. In fact, they point out smoking harms the lungs (Donnelly 3).4 The American Medical Association does not condone the
use of marijuana, although it does support further stating that under the direction of a doctor may be appropriate for certain conditions (Donnelly 3).4 The media address the subject in a language that precludes rational debate: Crime related to drugs prohibition is systematically described as “drug related”. Furthermore, most people seem to be deeply religiously committed to a medicalized view of life. Many take seriously the proposition that just into his head, it is also not its business what substance he puts into this body.
In a free society the government’s duty is to protect individuals from others who might harm them. In 1980, there were almost twice as may violent offenders in federal prisons as drug offenders (Schlosser 91).5 Today there are far more people in federal prison for marijuana crimes than for violent crimes. More people are incarcerated in the nation’s prisons for marijuana than manslaughter or rap (Schlosser 92).5 Attempts to reduce dangerous prison overcrowding have been disadvantaged by the nation’s drug law. Across the country prisons are filled with nonviolent fenders who mandatory minimum sentences do not allow for parole. At the same time violent offenders are routinely being granted early release (Schlosser 92).5 For example, Eric Schlosser reports this incident:
Eight years ago Douglas Lamar Gray brought a pound of marijuana in a room at the Econo Lodge in Decatur, Alabama. He planned to keep a few ounces for himself and sell the rest to some friends. Gray was a Vietnam veteran with an artificial leg. As a young man, he’d been convicted of a number of petty crimes none serious enough to warrant a prison warrant. He had stayed out of trouble for thirteen years. He now owned his
own business called Gray’s Roofing and Remodeling Company. He had a home, a wife and a two-year-old son. The man who sold him the drug, Jimmy Wilcox was a felon just
released from prison with more than thirty convictions on his record. Wilcox was also an informer employed by the Morgan County Drug Task Force. The local sheriff’s department, as part of a sting, had supplied the pound of marijuana. After paying Wilcox $900 for the pot, which seemed like a real bargain, Douglas Lamar Gray was arrested and charged with “trafficking in cannabis”. He was trailed, convicted, fined $2500,00 sentenced to life in prison without parole, and sent to the maximum security penitentiary in Springville, Alabama an aging, overcrowded prison filled with murderers and other violent inmates. He remains there to this day (Schlosser 90).5 Perhaps the politicians real fear was that freedom to use soft drugs would automatically progress to increased use of substance such as cocaine and heroin. If so they must have overlooked the recent Dutch government review which pointed out that decriminalization or possession of soft drugs has not led to a rise in the use of hard drugs (Lancet 1).6 Studies revealed that almost a third of all violent offenders who are released from prison will be arrested for another violent crime within three years. No one knows how many violent crimes these inmates commented without ever being caught. According to a report from the Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Californians’ much heralded “three strikes you’re out”, twice as many people have been imprisoned for marijuana offenses compared to murdering, raping, and kidnapping combined (Schlosser 92).5 Newt Gingrich introduced legislation demanding either a life sentence or death penalty for anyone caught bringing more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States. Gringrich’s bill attracted twenty-six
co-sponsors, though if failed to reach the house floor. Under civil forfeiture statues passed by Congress in the 1980’s, the federal government now has the right to seize real estate, vehicles, cash securities, jewelry and other property connected to a marijuana offense. The government need not prove that the property was brought with the proceeds of illegal drug sales, only that it was used or was intended to be use in a crime (Schlosser 95).5 If the owner had no involvement in, or knowledge of the crime, he or she can lose all property as well. When property is seized, its legal title passes instantly to the government. The proceeds from an asset for features are divided among the law enforcement involved in the case, a policy that invites the abuse of power. The willingness to turn informer has become more important to a drug offender’s fate than his or her role in a crime (Schlosser 95-96).5 The U.S. attorney not the judge, decides whether the defendant’s cooperation is sufficient to warrant a reduction of the sentence. Although this system helps to avoid expensive trails and provides evidence for future indictments, it also leads to longer prison terms for the minor participants in drug case (Schlosser 96).5
Informing on others has become not just a way to avoid punishment but a way of life. In 1985, the federal government spent $25 million on informers. An investigation by the National Law Journal found that the proportion of federal search warrants relying exclusively only on unidentified informers nearly tripled from 1980 to 1993, increasing from 24 percent (Schlosser 96).5 Informers have been caught framing innocent people. Law enforcement agents have been caught using nonexistent informers to justify search warrants. The legal and monetary rewards
for informing on others have even spawned a whole new business. Children of the upper middle class are rarely sent to prison for marijuana offenses today. Parents usually
enroll their children in private drug treatment programs before trial and hire attorneys who specialize in drug cases. The harshest punishments are given to people who won’t cooperate with the government (Schlosser 96).5 Most of the people being imprisoned for marijuana offenses are ordinary people without important information to provide, large assets to trade, or the income to pay for high priced attorney.
The New England Journal of Medicine has joined doctors and patients in support of legalizing the medical use of marijuana (San Francisco Chronicle 1).7 Through largely illegal since 1937, marijuana may prove an effective alternative to more commonly prescribed drugs for some diseases (Morganthau 23).8 Marijuana is often useful in the treatment of the following conditions:
Glaucoma: Marijuana, by reducing intraocular pressure, alleviates the pain and slows or halts the progress of the disease. Glaucoma, which damages vision by gradually increasing eye pressure over time, is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
Cancer: Marijuana alleviates the nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite caused by chemotherapy treatment.
AIDS: Marijuana alleviates the nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite caused by the disease itself and by treatment with AZT and other drugs. Each of these uses has been recognized as legitimate a least once by various courts, legislatures, government, or scientific agencies throughout the United States. Currently such well respected
organizations as the National Academy of Science (1982), the California Medical Association (1993), the Federation of American Scientists (1994), the Australian
Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health (1994), the American Public Health Association (1995), the San Francisco Medical Society (1996), the California
Academy of Family Physicians (1996), as well as several state nursing associations have supported the use of marijuana as medicine (Don’t Jail Med. 1-2).9
. Marijuana could benefit as many as five million patients in the United States. However, except for the eight individuals given permission by the federal government, marijuana remains illegal even as medicine (Don’t Jail Med. 2).9
Unlike other sedative compounds, cannabinoids have their effect in the upper portions of the brain with physical effects medicated downward, rather than affecting lower center of the brain as with alcohol, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines. Reactions to cannabis products vary from totally beneficial and necessary for life, to harmful, dangerous, and to be avoided. As well as being a lifesaver it can also be life threatening (Mikuriya 17-18).10 As with any drug, cannabis is a tool. There will always be individuals that experience adverse consequences from drug use. The abuse of cannabis has been recognized for millennia. These problems were described by O’Shaughnessey during his observation in India in 1839, which include references in the Persian medical literature. With widespread non medical use of the drug for the past thirty years,
psychiatrists have developed classifications of cannabis presented in the largest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Revision IV (DSM-IV) (Mikuriya 18).10 Secondary physical effect overdose are from the stimulation and sedation of the central nervous system. Encouragement with a flooding of ideas and images that are vivid and rapidly changing. Attention and concentration are markedly impaired. Time perception is significantly altered with minutes seeming like hours. There may be distortion of spatial perception. Clinically significant maladaptive behavior or psychological changes (e.g., impaired motor coordination, euphoria, anxiety, sensation of slowed time, impaired judgment, social withdrawal) that developed during, or shortly after, cannabis use (Mikuriya 19).10
One must consider what moral messages are being portrayed in reference to people suffering with chronicle illnesses. At the same time, we must recognize the tremendous benefits marijuana has in helping someone to function on a day to day basic of pain and suffering. One can not suggest that drugs simply be made available to anyone. Using marijuana as medicine is not about encouraging kiddies to smoke dope (Marijuana as Medicine 1).3 As Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar wrote in a 1995 editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association; “One of marihuana’s greatest advantages as a medicine is its remarkable safety. It has little effect on major physiological functions. There is no known case of lethal overdose. On the basis of animal models, the
ration of lethal to effective dose is estimated 40,000 to 1″ (Postrel 1).11 The legislature of Washington State approved over 100,000 in 1996. to conduct clinical studies on patients to determine the effectiveness of medical marijuana in the treatment of serious illnesses. The appropriation also funds research on cultivating medical marijuana in a tamper free environment and explores potential ways in which the state can legally distribute the drug for medical use (Don’t Jail Med. 4). 9 Due in part to the activism of
NORML members, a California initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purpose (Proposition 215) gather enough signatures to be placed on the November 1996 election ballot. In August, both the San Francisco Medical Society and The California Academy of Family Physicians representing a combined total of almost 10,000 physicians statewide endorse the proposition (Don’t Jail Med 5).9 What can we do to help? We must stop building prisons instead we must rebuild our lives.
1. Mikki, Norris, and Chris Conrad. Medical Marijuana Cases. N.p.: Inernet mario lap, 1996.
2. Foreman, Judy. “Medical Marijuana (Acure or Curse).” Boston Globe Boston, Mass. 7 Oct. 1991: 25-26
3. Grinspoon, Lester, and James B. Bakalar. “Marihuana as Medicine A Plea for Reconsideration.” American Medical Association.” 273 (June 1995): 1875-1876.
4. Donnelly, Kathleen. “The Cannabis Prescription.” San Joes Mercury News, 6 Feb
5. Schlosser, Eric. “More Reefer Madness.” Atlantic Apr. 1997: 90-102
6. “Deglamorising Cannabis.” Editorial Lancet 11 Nov. 1995: 1241.
7. “Marijuana as Medicine.” Editorial San Francisco Chronicle 31 Jan. 1997: A24.
8. Morganthau, Tom. “The War Over Weed.” Newsweek 3 Feb. 1997: 20+.
9. “Don’t Jail Medicinal Marijuana Patients”. Online NORML Internet. 21 Nov. 1996.
10. Mikuriya, Tod. Marijuana Medical Handbook. N.p.: Internet.
11. Postrel, Virginia I. “Reefer Madness.” Washington Post 3 Mar. 1997: 4.