Medical MarijuanaIn my years as a youngster I never thought that we would be seriously discussing whether Marijuana should be considered either for medicinal or recreational usage.  And as a conservative, I would have never thought that we would need to spend the time debating the pros and cons without a lot of easy standard lines: “It’s a Gateway Drug”, “Kills Brain Cells”, “Highly Addictive”.

But here we are, and frankly, I’m not prepared to just discard the discussion as unimportant or too obvious to spend time on.  That would be both a disservice and inconsistent with my belief that positions on policy should be reviewed and when challenged, they should be openly and honestly discussed.

I’m not a doctor, nor have I had the time to study this at such a level of depth as to call myself an “expert” on the topic.  But I have discussed this with doctors I know, and I’ve looked at some of the information currently available (here, here, here and here).  I’ve also been around friends that were regular users of Marijuana, and I even took one deep breath of the stuff (from a pipe) when I was younger.  Yes, I inhaled.  Didn’t like it.  And I was a tobacco smoker at the time.

Most of us here in the Midwest tend to just laugh at California for legalizing Marijuana for medicinal use.  We could have more or less predicted that dispensaries would become dealers for all who wanted, not just those that actually needed it.  And as the debate is building here in Iowa, along with a new recommendation from the Iowa Pharmacy Board to proceed with legalizing the medicinal use of Marijuana, many assumptions and absolutes of the past are now being challenged.

My biggest concern about this issue, as with most political issues, is the level of emotion injected into the conversation.  I have watched intelligent people who have a compelling argument fall apart in the midst of the anger and fear that can be associated with issues like this.

“How many people have lost loved ones to the side-effects of drugs?”

“What business is it of yours to tell me what I can do in my own hom”

“How many people have been victims of actions by those under the influence of Marijuana?”

“Don’t you care about people who are suffering?”

“How could anyone possibly think that making Marijuana available to anyone is a good thing?”

“This is part of my religion, and I have the right to practice my religion!”

“We have to protect our children, society, our country’s national interests!”

“You’re living in the Dark Ages!”

And so on.  Don’t get me wrong, fear and anger and love are all very real and important feelings that will naturally have an influence over how you look at this issue.  But allowing them to be too intense will certainly cloud your judgement.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers.  However, it seems that the research and opinions of people on both sides of the issue tend to be fairly consistent regarding Marijuana use in these regards:

  • The effects of the drug typically last for no more than a few hours.
  • The impact on the brain and body during the effected period is not trivial, and apparently not permanent in most regards.
  • During the effective period of the drug, memory is impacted and under heavier use hallucinations and delusions may occur.  It is fair to say that while a person is “stoned”, their behavior and ability to reason is impaired.
  • The drug has some valuable medicinal effects, including pain relief, nausea control, appetite stimulation

I’m not convinced that withholding access to Marijuana for medicinal purposes is a necessary control for our society.  If the value is real, and managed under the control of a medical professional like any other prescription drug, then I support the use of the drug to help patients in need.  As the use grows, I do hope that improvements in synthetics (Marinol) and other delivery technologies will eliminate the need for patients to smoke the drug, but the current state of delivery technology is apparently in flux, and likely because of the strained legal situation.

Why?  Because I have yet to see any substantive research that leads me to believe we should treat Marijuana unlike other prescription narcotics.  A good friend of mine, a politically conservative doctor whom I trust, supports this view.  I just don’t see any compelling reason to do otherwise.

Using the drug will clearly require not only access controls, but behavior controls for the patient.  Obviously, many patients that would use the drug are not in a position to drive a car or control heavy machinery, but the facts of the drugs impact on behavior need to be taken into proper account whenever it is dispensed.

An entirely separate discussion is required for recreational use of Marijuana.  At this point, I lack the will to address it since the pressure is not on (yet) to legalize the drug for casual use.  I am not naive; medicinal use is certainly an incremental step toward general access for some people involved in the medicinal discussion.  However, I think the recreational discussion does deserve the same thoughtful exchange of ideas and information to reach an informed conclusion, with the added area of how to classify and control the drug for general use, in a category similar to Alcohol and Tobacco.  Wider use will lead to issues with driving, working, public behavior, etc., and I expect that there will be even more emotion involved.  We will talk about this topic in the future.

Marijuana should be treated as any other prescription drug.  Although there are clearly hazards with using the drug, they seem no more of a risk than those associated with narcotics that are routinely dispensed.  It seems unreasonably punitive to restrict access to those who truly need it, and unnecessary to control the drug any differently than any narcotic-classed product.

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