Say what you mean, and mean what you do

Monday, October 26th, 2009 @ %I:%M %p | News

“The federal government says they’re not going to control it, so the only other option we have is to control it ourselves,” said Carrol Martin, a City Council member in this community north of Denver.

This is from today’s NYT article about the US States that allow medical marijuana.

Yesterday I watched with some bemusement CNN’s program on the same topic and then there was this article in the Times. I was at least impressed that CNN dedicated a whole hour to it rather than their typical 20 second carpet bombing even while I still hunker for the quality of approach like BBC Panorama and Jeremy Paxton.

The core of the issue:

  1. several states allow medical use of the drugs;
  2. federal law forbids any and all use;
  3. federal government announced they will not pursue where state law allows this use.

Several things are odd here:

  1. how can state law allow something that federal law forbids?
  2. the above quote indicates that these states consciously allowed something without being prepared to control or manage it
  3. medical use seems a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” approach to allow (tolerate?) broad use of the drug

The CNN program seemed to show that the medical effectiveness of marijuana is contested but let’s assume for the sake of the debate that it is effective at addressing chronic pain, nausea from cancer drug therapy and other such benefits. Then it should be treated as any other medical drug:

  1. tested, approved and controlled by the FDA;
  2. available only on subscription from a medical doctor and available only at a licensed pharmacy, and
  3. labeled with similar warnings against operating machinery etc like subscription pain killers and sleeping pills.

I suspect the FDA aspect is a little tricky as long as federal law forbids its use.

However, that hardly excuses the head in the sand policy that Mr Martin and other local officials in these states seem to prescribe to which to me very much reads as “oh, we can just do this, someone else will clean up the mess.“ Mayor Ed Clark of the same city jumped to the other end of the spectrum in explaining his vote on a proposal to ban dispensaries: ”I think we do regulate them, by not allowing dispensaries.“ Which seems equally irresponsible: allow the use but don’t allow a means to get it – in other words send the legitimate user onto the streets. Not sure how that helps address illegal trade and all its effects on society.

I believe the 13 states that currently allow medical use really have done this not necessarily because they are so taken by the struggles of cancer, chronically ill and/or terminally ill patients in their states but rather as a means to get some grip on the use and dealing of marijuana and its drain on local law enforcement resources. But, it is probably not wise for a elected official to be that honest.

The CNN program filmed one medical user in Los Angeles and followed him into one of the dispensaries there. On the shelves and the counter a plethora of choices were laid out before him on how to fulfil his medical need: pills, sprays, chocolate, cookies, brownies and more. That by itself makes the justification to allow marijuana use on medical grounds a little shaky: the drug’s concentration, its potency, its absorption by the body is all going to be different from one piece of cake to the next joint.

In LA County there is no regulation whatsoever, that much was clear. I could understand the frustration of the law enforcement guy on the program even while my belief is that this drug is really not any more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol and I am all for whatever eases the severe suffering of patients from whom nothing will cure their disease. But if it is a medicine then it is a medicine and you need to make it play by the same rules. Or allow general use. Or the federal government needs to get these states’ laws struck down.

 

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