July 2, 2003
Canada, Maryland going to pot

By Robert Weiner and Amy Rieth

      Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich recently signed legislation into law allowing patients using medical marijuana, if taken to trial, to raise an "affirmative defense of medical necessity."

      Now, as long as the patient successfully shows that his or her use of marijuana is for medical purposes, the maximum fine allowed would be a mere $100. Canada has also changed its marijuana policy, with the courts allowing "medical" use, the government's creating an Office of Cannabis Medical Access and punishing possession of small amounts of marijuana with a lesser fine, similar to a traffic ticket.

      Since 1996, eight states preceded Maryland in liberalizing or outright legalizing medical use of marijuana or even the so-called harder drugs for medicinal purposes: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington.

      Let's look at the truth here. Legislation permitting the use of medical marijuana is a wedge for those who support drug legalization, undeniably because they desire the high. California found that very few people going to medical marijuana clinics were terminally ill; the vast majority were simply potheads who wanted dope.

      It is ironic that advocates for legalizing marijuana to help poor, suffering and pain-stricken individuals do not support the drug in other forms such as patches, suppositories, aerosols, or pill form. They only push for the smoked form of marijuana.

      Legalization advocates argue that marijuana helps cure severe headaches, glaucoma and even Parkinson's disease, and say it prevents nausea, reduces pain, sparks the appetite, reduces muscle spasms and decreases eye fluid pressure in glaucoma cases. However, glaucoma treatment is actually just delayed by marijuana, not helped. Medical marijuana is no better than medical gin - taking a shot of it blurs the pain and makes you hungry, too. Marijuana is not a miracle drug. It does not cure anything.

      Science, not politics, and not "high hopes," should determine what is safe and effective medicine. Certainly, hot, burning smoke in someone's throat is not it. In comparison to tobacco, Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang of UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center points out that "the carcinogens in marijuana are much stronger than those in tobacco." At the same time, smoking marijuana can lead to tachycardia, a serious increase in heart rate, often accompanied by an increase in blood pressure. Concentration, motor coordination, memory, lungs and reproductive and immune systems are all adversely impacted by marijuana use, according to the National Institutes of Health.

      In 1996, the California ballot initiative passed, making the state the first to remove criminal penalties for qualifying patients who grow, possess and use medical marijuana. But such initiatives are funded by people like George Soros, who has contributed more than $15 million to initiatives and propositions pushing for drug legalization (currently, federal and most state campaign laws do not limit personal contributions for initiatives, only candidate races).

      The answer to the war on drugs does not lie in decriminalizing marijuana. Doing so could very well mean heading down a dangerous path that will likely require societal and legislative corrections in the future. Do we really want to reproduce problems of the '70s and '80s, when drug use and crime were at their highest?

      An annual survey of 100,000 students shows, surprising to legalization advocates, that marijuana is disproportionately involved in crime and violence. Marijuana is also the most used drug for which teens seek treatment, surpassing alcohol. In fact, more teens seek treatment nationally for marijuana than all other drugs combined.

      Today, drug use in our country is half of what it was in the late '70s and early '80s; cocaine use is down by 70 percent, and crime is at all-time lows. Legalization of medical marijuana will immediately lead to increased availability of the drug and deflated attitudes about its dangers. This, in turn, will bring increased usage. Is this what our country wants? More people using and even becoming dependent on marijuana, especially if they start taking the drug compulsively, as would most likely be the case for medicinal purposes? Making drugs more available is not a solution, but an aggravation of the problem.

      Marijuana does not meet the scientific requirements for efficacy, quality, purity and safety necessary to be considered medicine. How can anyone consider it compassionate or medically responsible to prescribe harmful substances to ill people and delude them into thinking they are improving their health? The American Medical Association, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Glaucoma Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Cancer Society have all rejected the use of smoked marijuana as medicine. The rest of America should do the same.

Robert Weiner, a public affairs consultant, is former public affairs director for the White House Drug Policy Office (1995-2001) and former communications director for the House Narcotics Committee (1986-1990). Amy Rieth, a sophomore at North Carolina State University, is an advocate of drug-free communities.