The Medical Marijuana Mess

America has developed a love-hate relationship with marijuana. Drug enforcement agencies, many non-users and most local police departments hate it. Users, newspapers, some doctors, tax collectors and a whole lot of pot providers love it. All this has come to a boiling point in areas where marijuana for medical use has been legalized by state and local governments. It's still a substance that is illegal to use, grow or distribute as far as the federal government is concerned and that has become a fly in the ointment for medical marijuana supporters.

People who support the legalization of marijuana say that it is not any more dangerous than alcohol and may even be less problematic. They point to the large number of alcohol-related traffic and health deaths compared with the numbers of people that use pot and do not get into accidents or die from their use of the drug. The problem with their statistics is that those numbers are not reliable. It's only been in recent months that many local police agencies have started or are planning to begin roadside testing for drivers they suspect are high (now that the technology for instant testing has become available). As far as health concerns go, many physicians fear that the use of marijuana has many more health consequences than previously thought possible.

An exhaustive study published in June of 2012 by the British Lung Foundation reveals that their researchers found "strong evidence of a link between the drug and diseases such as lung cancer, tuberculosis and other lung conditions." Those same researchers also found that people who regularly use marijuana have a much greater chance of having a heart attack than those who do not use the drug. On top of all that, their study indicates that the regular use of pot suppresses and may ultimately damage the human body's immune system.

Areas where 'medical marijuana' use is allowed have been flooded with stores offering the drug. Many consider this a positive development for struggling economies. Ads for providers fill local newspaper classified sections providing their publishers with much needed revenues. Doctors looking for more cash-paying patients find their offices filled with people wanting a pot prescription. Tax revenues from the sale of medical marijuana are helping to fill local coffers. Oakland, California, took in a million and a half dollars from pot providers during the first year it was legal there. Despite all this good news, there is a huge down side to all this as well.

Non-users living in areas where prescription pot use is allowed are feeling the crunch. Stores offering medical marijuana are popping up everywhere and that is causing a social and political upheaval. As was the case with non-smokers being forced to live in a world of tobacco users, people that do not use marijuana and are opposed to its use by others say that their rights and federal laws are being violated. They have a point. In some places pot provider storefronts are everywhere and this makes it hard for parents to tell their children not to get high and obey the law.

Although localities which allow prescription pot use are rushing to pass statues regarding when and where it can be used, they are facing the consternation of non-users who say that it should not be legal at all and that their elected officials are in violation of federal law by allowing the sale of medical marijuana. They also point out the fact that a number of physicians have reported an increase in marijuana addiction among teenagers in areas where pot is legal for medical use.

Christian Thurstone is a psychiatrist with board certifications in addiction treatment and child and adolescent care. In 2010 he wrote an opt-ed article for the Denver Post stating "We're seeing more teenagers coming in suffering from marijuana abuse, including ones saying, 'Marijuana is my medicine.' In the scientific community there's no debate about whether or not marijuana is an addictive substance. We know that marijuana triggers the same parts of the brain as all other addictive substances, like nicotine, cocaine and heroin. Probably about 2 percent of adolescents have an addiction to marijuana, and we know that dependence is not just psychological but physical -- and that it includes tolerance levels. Users have to smoke more and more to get the same effect, and there's a withdrawal syndrome that lasts one to two weeks with heavy users."

Apart from becoming addicted to marijuana, there has also been an alarming increase in Socially Transmitted Diseases (STDs) among teenagers in areas where pot is legal for medical use. Some say that is because people under the influence of the drug are more likely to act on a craving that they might feel for physical intimacy, than those who are non-users would be. Add to that the already confused signals that teenagers receive from their bodies as they try and make the transition to adulthood and you have one huge disaster in the making.

There is a reason that a drug like marijuana was made illegal in the first place. It was once considered a poison which sometimes caused toxic side effects among users after first being introduced into the United States during the 1830s. It's hallucinogenic affect and addictive nature were noted and caused the use, possession or sale of pot to be made illegal during the twentieth century. Additional legislation was later added to make it illegal to grow, cultivate or distribute the drug as well. The Supreme Court recently ruled "that even where persons are cultivating, possessing, or distributing medical cannabis in accordance with state-approved medical cannabis programs, such persons are violating federal marijuana laws and can therefore be prosecuted by federal authorities..." (Gonzales v. Raich in 2005)

The real problem may be that the medical community has become split between those physicians who support the use of 'medical marijuana' on humanitarian grounds, and those who point out its addictive nature and the long-term dangers to public health posed by use of the drug. Besides these contradictory statements, we have the fact that medicine is a constantly changing system of treatments for physical ailments and an ever-evolving science. It was just a hundred years ago that doctors used 'bleeding' as a means of treating almost any sort of illness. A hundred years from now physicians of that time may be astounded and horrified by the fact that their predecessors once offered marijuana prescriptions to their patients.

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