So-called “medical marijuana” has been around for many years, most notably in California.
But the “dispensaries” where the pot could be bought by patients with doctor’s prescriptions were sometimes raided by federal agents who said the state had no right to allow the sale of the Schedule 1 narcotic (same category as cocaine and heroin).
In March, however, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would no longer authorize such raids. Since then, marijuana has become available as a medical treatment in California to almost anyone who tells a willing physician he would feel better if he smoked marijuana.
Now business is booming, with more than 400 dispensaries operating in Los Angeles alone. Thirteen other states have legalized medical marijuana although their businesses are not as open as in California.
While medical marijuana dispensaries are unlikely to be seen in downtown Culpeper any time soon, it’s clear that national attitudes toward marijuana have moderated. It wasn’t so long ago that disclosure of youthful experimentation with marijuana excluded one from a political career. Now you can write about it in your biography and get elected president.
If the medical marijuana model in California expands to the other 13 states that have already allowed medical marijuana, that would seem to set the stage for eventual decriminalization in most states.
So, are all these medical marijuana users really sick? Probably not. But if someone is dying and says marijuana makes them feel better, I think it is only humane to allow them to legally have it.
If marijuana were completely legal, would there be more users? Marijuana was essentially legalized in Holland 20 years ago. There is no evidence of greatly increased use. Teen use is even lower than in the U.S.
One valid concern of decriminalization is more people might drive under the influence. Although there is no compelling evidence that marijuana contributes significantly to traffic accidents, its use while driving should be strongly discouraged. There is no field sobriety test similar to an alcohol breathalyzer, making detection and conviction difficult. Hopefully new technology will soon fix that.
Let me be clear: I have no use for marijuana and discourage anyone from using it. Inhaling hot gases can’t be good for you. But millions of people are going to use marijuana whether it is legal or not.
Marijuana is the main moneymaker of drug gangs. I would prefer to see adult users buy from government-regulated sources rather than a bunch of outlaws.
Maybe the California experiment will have problems. But it is worth having something to compare to our current system that turns millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals for using a plant whose health and safety risks are far less than currently available legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.
The other part of the marijuana argument centers on the growing of industrial hemp. Hemp has been grown in America through most of our history. It is used for oil, rope, clothes and thousands of other products.
Some fear that marijuana growers will mix their plants in with the hemp. But the industrial hemp I’ve seen pictures of is tall and spindly, and looks nothing like bushy marijuana. Hemp has virtually none of the active ingredient that produces the high.
Marijuana growers would never mix their plants with hemp because the cross-pollination would drastically lower the drug content. But industrial hemp production remains illegal.
The Virginia legislature passed a resolution in 1999 endorsing the monitored experimental growing of hemp in Virginia, although none has been grown. North Dakota officials sued the U.S. government seeking permission to grow hemp. Their neighbors in Canada have been growing hemp for a decade and have been shipping millions of dollars worth to the U.S. for thousands of products.
Hemp is grown worldwide with no problems of it being used for illegal purposes. There’s no rational reason to keep U.S. farmers from growing this multi-purpose crop.
Robert Legge – Editorial Columnist
Legge’s column runs every other Thursday on the editorial page.