Medicinal Marijuana: The Politics
For more than 25 years, the medical marijuana battle has been fought graciously by patients with cancer and glaucoma. The war has accelerated recently and has become more vocal. In 1976, following a lawsuit and weeks of tests at UCLA Robert Randall, who was suffering with glaucoma, became the first person to receive marijuana from the federal government. As years passed by, more tests and studies were showing that there was indeed a medical benefit to smoking marijuana. By 1991, the federal government, while still denying its benefit, was shipping marijuana to 12 people suffering from cancer nausea, glaucoma, chronic pain, and muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis. Randall encouraged AIDS patients to apply to use the unproven drug as he had. It was a program which Jimmy Carter had established after Randall's case went public. The FDA was suddenly swamped with thousands of unproven drug applications and approved about two dozen more patients by late 1991. However, the Public Health Service under George Bush stopped approving new participants and ended all marijuana research programs. The patients who had been approved but were still awaiting the drug were never to receive them. Today the government provides marijuana to only 8 of the original 12 patients. The other four have died. Bill Clinton has upheld the ban but added a provision that allows research into the medical benefits.
Proposition 200 and Proposition 215
In November of 1996, voters in Arizona and California approved propositions 200 and 215 respectively, allowing patients to smoke marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's recommendation. Fifty-six percent of Californians favored Proposition 215, with 44 percent opposed. Arizona's proposition 200 won with a bigger margin, 65 percent to 35 percent. The initiatives won not due to a widespread desire for legalization of marijuana, but rather because of sympathy for the extremely ill patients and chronic pain sufferers. The California measure resembles laws twice passed by the state legislature previously, but vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson. Besides allowing patients to possess, grow, and consume marijuana on a doctor's recommendation, it stipulates that the patient's primary caregiver and the recommending doctor would be exempt from criminal sanctions. The Arizona proposition 200 promised an even larger impact by allowing doctors to prescribe any Schedule 1 drug if they site research supporting a medical application and obtain a concurring written approval from another doctor. The Arizona act also included many criminal justice provisions designed to "medicalize" the drug war.
Medicalization vs. Legalization
Under federal law it is still illegal to manufacture, use, possess, or distribute Schedule 1 drugs. Even patients complying with state laws and following doctor's orders are in violation of federal law. Opponents to the propositions have the view that medical-use laws will lead to legalization of marijuana. It is feared by opponents that as the nation struggles to educate teenagers not to use psychoactive drugs, they will be sent a contradictory message that drugs are good. Proponents find this alleged contradiction to be ludicrous. The marijuana proponents also counter that government policy on this issue is set by pharmaceutical manufacturers who stand to lose billions of dollars to a plant they cannot patent. Proponents feel medical professionals, not bureaucrats, should decide health care issues.
Related Resources - Medicinal Marijuana
Sources: PRESCRIPTION: DRUGS, REASON Online, February 1997 Marijuana as a medicine
First published: 8/12/1997