Emphasis on ‘medical’ — how California blew the Medical Marijuana Initiative
People here in California love weed. In the San Francisco Bay Area you can (and will) smell people smoking it as you’re walking down the street. This was the case before marijuana became legal here medicinally, and because we love our weed so much, we Californians have viewed the legalization of medical marijuana as a huge victory. In fact, the way in which medical marijuana has been handled here is a pretty big fail.
Medical marijuana in California is acquired, for a patient, by having a special “prescription” card. Patients go to special dispensaries (pot clubs) to buy their weed. It is easy as pie to get a “prescription” card, but in 99% of cases you have to go to a special doctor to do so. These doctors’ practices are comprised solely of doling out medical marijuana prescriptions, they advertise as such in local newspapers, and you’re not going to find them or their counterparts working for Kaiser or Blue Shield.
The whole business is shady. If I have trouble concentrating, focusing, or staying alert, I can get a prescription for Aderol from Kaiser and have that prescription filled downstairs in their pharmacy. I took Aderol once, purely for recreational purposes, and it is speed. Straight up, Aderol is as much like methamphetamine as anything I’ve ever tried, and there is no doubt as to its legality or the mainstream manner in which it is prescribed. I went to the ER with severe abdominal cramps once and within fifteen minutes I was holed up on a hospital bed being doped up with morphine. Morphine is heroin, folks. Pharmaceutical grade heroin was pumped into me right there in the emergency room under a doctor’s care. What is more legitimate than that? Medicinal cocaine is used every day in the form of Novocaine by your local dentist.
If anyone out there believes weed is more dangerous than speed, heroin, or cocaine, please raise your hand. And don’t give me a “gateway drug” spiel either, because I guarantee you that speed, heroin, and cocaine are a whole lot more likely to lead to more speed, heroin, and cocaine, in addition to other drugs (not to mention crime, sex for drugs and possible death), while marijuana is only likely to lead to eating a whole bag of cookies.
When my grandmother had pancreatic cancer she had severe nausea and couldn’t eat. Back then medical marijuana wasn’t legal yet, but the family was able to get the poor woman some weed. It calmed her nausea and helped her to eat a little. This is a perfectly legitimate medicinal use for marijuana: it cures nausea and increases appetite. There is not a doctor on earth who will argue with this statement. Weed is medicine, and one of its medicinal uses is the cure of nausea.
I have a very close girlfriend who has lupus. I also have a very close girlfriend who has Crohn’s Disease. Both of these friends experience severe inflammation of the joints as a result of their disease, and both medicate with medical marijuana. Marijuana helps dull the pain of inflamed joints and helps a person to relax, something which is not easy to do when your body is inflamed and in pain. This is a completely legitimate medicinal use of marijuana.
As a result of their respective diseases, both of these friends also have trouble sleeping. In fact, without medication, both of these friends experience insomnia and have the displeasure of staying awake through the night and suffering through their symptoms for an additional eight hours a day. With the help of their medical marijuana, these ladies find it much easier to get a good night’s sleep. Pot makes you tired. It helps you sleep. As there are a dozen chemical sleep aids available both over the counter and by prescription, clearly use as a sleep aid is a legitimate medical function.
I have heard of marijuana aiding glaucoma patients. I am aware that it can cure certain kinds of headaches. It can be used to aid in weight gain for eating disorder patients, people recovering from cancer, and people currently in chemotherapy.
Marijuana is a plant that grows naturally from the ground. It doesn’t need to be processed or chemically altered. It can be smoked, eaten, or drank as a tea or tincture. It lasts, depending on the form in which you take it, between half an hour and a few hours.
So let me get this straight. This “drug” is all natural, cures nausea, eases inflammation, creates an appetite where one is needed, cures certain headaches, aids glaucoma patients, helps eating disorder and cancer patients, helps with relaxation and pain relief, and helps people get a good night’s sleep? And that’s just some of its known medicinal uses? It sounds like a miracle drug to me.
So what, in the hell, is the problem here? And what I mean by that is, why is this not a medicine like any other that my “real” doctor is prescribing to me and that I can pick up in the pharmacy on my way out of the hospital?
This is where California failed, big time. As far as I can tell this is what happened: California wanted weed to be legal. Period. Not medicinally, just plain old legal. This theory is bolstered by the fact that a bill will be on the California ballot in 2011 to legalize marijuana, period. If the bill passes, weed will be like alcohol – available in liquor stores, packaged by major name brands, and taxed heavily. Like I said, we Californians love our weed. We love it so much, in fact, that we failed to treat it as a true medicine, and instead used the medicine “angle” to jump the first hurdle toward outright legalization.
In a way you could say Californians got greedy. We wanted our weed and we wanted it now, for everyone. If it were treated like a true medicine, every Californian who wanted legal access to it would have had to prove real, legitimate symptoms to a real, legitimate doctor and be prescribed it in the traditional manner. That wasn’t going to fly, because many of the people using medicinal marijuana in California today, if not most, are abusing the medical aspect of the drug, and wouldn’t have a prescription had they had to go through traditional measures to get it.
I, for one, would love a standing prescription for Vicodin and Percoset, purely for recreational use, but I have yet to find a way to convince a doctor that I have the ailments that require these prescriptions, and because of that, I don’t get to take these drugs at my leisure.
Californians did not want to have to jump this same hurdle to have access to pot. Hence the quasi-legal, quasi-medicinal status of the drug. Hence the special doctors, special “prescription” cards, and special dispensaries where you buy the stuff. By making weed quasi-medical/quasi-legal, the masses in California can easily obtain marijuana in a “legal” manner. The problem is that this has created a suspect status and classification for the drug, and thereby severely weakened its status as the legitimate medicine that it is.
If marijuana were prescribed by your regular doctor and available at your local pharmacy, do you think the Feds would come in and raid the Kaiser pharmacy? Would the Feds be shutting down Walgreens on a regular basis because it was filling prescriptions for weed? I don’t think so. I think that if weed had been legalized as a medicine in the same manner that speed, heroin, and cocaine all were before it, as controlled substances carefully prescribed for certain legitimate conditions under the watchful eye of a normal doctor, the Feds wouldn’t have batted an eye, and within a couple of years this medicine would have been available in the same manner to every person in the country who truly could have benefited from its very real medicinal uses.
California should have attacked the legalization of marijuana on a two-track course of action. It should have sought the true legalization of the drug as medicine and treated it as such, and very separately it should have attempted outright legalization for recreational use. And Californians should have been willing to accept, as a real victory, if weed had become legal for medicinal purposes but not for recreational use.
Instead Californians allowed marijuana to be treated as a suspect class of medicine in order to gain some ground on the road to recreational legalization. As a result, those with legitimate medicinal need for the drug suffer. Here in California, people with a prescription are themselves in a suspect situation. They cannot travel across state lines with their medicine, and if the Feds come in contact with them here in California they are technically in violation of Federal law. Not to mention there are many people who refuse to get a prescription, even though they need it, because they don’t want to be in a database as having a medical marijuana card. It might hurt their future as professionals, and who knows what will happen if one day the Feds win and it is illegal again, even as medicine, in California.
I, personally, am an adamant believer in the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational uses. But as I see a hierarchy of things: Sick people should have unfettered access to their medicine, and that should have priority over recreational use. I am ashamed that progressive, humanitarian California handled marijuana in such a way as to selfishly let people who legitimately need medicine suffer in the hopes of the masses having eventual access for recreational use. Not as ashamed as I am that we passed Proposition 8, but that’s another story.