Barriers to Legalized Medical Marijuana

What is the hold up with medical marijuana research, legalization, and decriminalization around the country? Why is it okay in some places, but not others? This is actually quite sordid and complicated. We’ll only scratch the surface, but it should give you a general idea of what’s going on with legalized medical Marijuana. (Spoiler alert: mass confusion)

Legalized Medical Marijuana

A Brief History

You may have heard that the laws leading to the criminalization of marijuana possession and distribution are rooted in American racism against Mexicans. That’s true to some extent. It started happening around the turn of the 20th century. But there’s more to it than that. Racism and classism was happening on both sides of the border. In fact, the Mexican government banned marijuana 17 years before the U.S. federal government crackdown began. Part of the problem is that there were conflicting stories about what pot would do to you. Some medical journals were reporting how mellow and cheerful it caused a person to become. While some newspaper articles featured headlines of rage-filled potheads who went on killing sprees.

And lest you think that was propaganda, it turns out that they were often talking about two different kinds of the plant, but didn’t realize it. So, both countries banned it. For more of the fascinating history of marijuana in America, check out this eye-opening piece on NPR.

Schedule I Status

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is an advocacy group comprised of researchers, scientists, and citizens. They are working to advance medical marijuana therapies and research. They explain that the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) does not differentiate between recreational and medical use of marijuana. They add, “Under the CSA, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that the federal government views cannabis as highly addictive and having no medical value. Doctors may not “prescribe” cannabis for medical use under federal law, though they can “recommend” its use under the First Amendment.”

An Absurd Classification

Let’s take a moment to ponder the foolishness of the Schedule I status. First, regarding marijuana being “highly addictive,” it may have the potential for that. But even the government explains that it’s not the norm: “Marijuana use can lead to the development of problem use, known as a marijuana use disorder, which takes the form of addiction in severe cases.”

They add that 30% of users may have the “disorder.” And just what does that look like? “Marijuana use disorders are often associated with dependence—in which a person feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. People who use marijuana frequently often report irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort that peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks.” I’ve had far worse side effects from my past dependencies on coffee and sugar. 

Second, out of one side of their mouths, the federal government gives marijuana ‘no medical value.’ But on the other side of the mouths, they actually fund ongoing research. We’re talking about the National Institutes of Health where they are using marijuana to cure everything from cancer and epilepsy to mental disorders and substance abuse disorders. That’s right….substance abuse disorders can be fixed with marijuana. Does any of this conflicting information seem as strange to you as it does to me? You can read all about it on their own website. Also, many states have legalized medical marijuana already. So we have quite the political conundrum, don’t we?

Federal and State Laws Conflict

According to the Consolidated Appropriations Act 0f 2017, “Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories.” While this is very poorly worded, it means that the D.O.J. won’t interfere with states making their own laws regarding medical marijuana. And that includes research. A potential problem arises when you consider the opening portion of this statement which says that it’s basically good until September 30, 2017. Then what happens?

Because as it stands right now, ASA explains that “the federal government has the constitutional authority to prohibit marijuana for all purposes. Thus, federal law enforcement officials may prosecute medical marijuana patients, even if they grow their own medicine and even if they reside in a state where medical marijuana use is protected under state law” [emphasis added].

Recap: What the…..?

  • Marijuana has a bizarre history.
  • It might be highly addictive…sort of.
  • This potentially addictive plant is used to help break addictions to other substances.
  • It has no medical value, but the government is curing all kinds of ailments with it.
  • Doctors can’t “prescribe” it, but they can “recommend” it.
  • The research and use of recreational and medical marijuana violates federal law, but at least 29 states have legalized it for medical use and at least seven states have legalized recreational use. The hub of law development, Washington D.C., has done both.

There are many other factors to consider in this rather ludicrous scenario. When it comes to government and political situations that lack any sense what-so-ever, we’d be wise to revert to that adage to follow the money. After all, we haven’t even touched on the money to be made from incarcerating people with harsh sentences for even minor possession charges. Especially in light of many states legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

What do you make of this chaotic and conflicting legislation? Where do you weigh in on the use of medical marijuana, especially to relieve painful conditions such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis?