Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a formal directive to U.S. attorneys instructing them not to prosecute medical-marijuana patients and providers who are acting in accordance with their state law.
This decision is a major victory for science, reason and compassion, and it will have a profound and positive impact on the lives of many thousands suffering from serious and terminal illness.
This decision is also a major vote of confidence for patients, doctors and potential dispensary owners who would like to participate in the proposed medical-marijuana program here in Arizona but may have been wary of exposing themselves to federal prosecution. Now they no longer have reason to fear.
Unfortunately, unless the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act – a ballot initiative backed by my organization, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project – passes in November 2010, patients and their doctors in Arizona won’t be able to benefit from the Justice Department’s decision.
Today, cancer patients in Arizona whose doctors inform them that their best course of treatment may be marijuana – and trust me, there are plenty – face a terrible choice.
They have to either continue to suffer with the debilitating pain and nausea caused by their chemotherapy, or they have to go to a potentially dangerous criminal market where they will get a product of unknown quality and purity, and where they face the risk of arrest and prosecution.
Arizona is unique. Our state is one of the few places in the country where possession of any amount of marijuana can be prosecuted as a felony. Cancer patients should never face felony charges for following their doctors’ advice.
Our initiative provides an alternative. We propose a network of state-regulated dispensaries that will grow and distribute marijuana to qualified patients on a non-profit basis. Our conditions list is restrictive. There will be no legal marijuana recommendations for minor problems like headaches or trouble sleeping; only seriously and terminally-ill patients who suffer from acute or chronic illnesses will be eligible for the program.
The regulations and controls on growing and distribution will ensure that criminal enterprises will not be able to enter the market in any way, either as growers or as sellers.
We are committed to enacting a law that will not only be good for patients but also for law enforcement and the community as a whole.
The science on medical marijuana is clear. There can no longer be a reasonable academic debate about whether marijuana is an effective treatment for multiple serious medical conditions.
We’re not advocating marijuana as a cure-all miracle drug, but science has shown that it can be a safe and effective medication when used in the right circumstances. When used properly, medical marijuana is an important tool for doctors looking to improve their patients’ quality of life.
We applaud the Department of Justice for finally putting patients before politics. We hope the voters of our state will do the same next November.
Andrew Meyers is the campaign manager for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project.
By Andrew Meyers