A Doctor Kevin Sabet has emerged as a prominent spokesperson for that dwindling group of people who support the war on drugs.  Sabet has worked in both the Bush and Obama administrations and is currently traveling the country speaking out against moves to loosen marijuana laws. Sabet recently appeared in both Columbus and in Butler County to blast a proposed medical marijuana initiative in Ohio.

In Columbus, Sabet outlined his thoughts on the issue, including a nasty swipe at the folks who believe in the benefits of medical marijuana. (See Article) Sabet blasted the notion that marijuana has any benefits as a medicine and accused supporters of medical marijuana of “putting on white coats and pretending to have compassion for the sick and dying.”

Sabet, like everyone else, is entitled to his opinion on medical marijuana. But such a personal attack on medial marijuana supporters is out of line for a supposed professional.  Further, his comments do not square with the volume of research on marijuana nor with my experience with medical marijuana advocates whose motivations appear primarily driven by compassion.  It should be pointed out that Sabet does not hold a monopoly on personal attacks.  One of those who commented on the news article called Sabet “porky,” another example of name-calling that serves little purpose.

Name calling aside, is medical marijuana a good idea?  My humble opinion — unequivocally YES. I will leave it to Sabet and others to debate the benefits of marijuana as medicine and will only say that a lot of the research and anecdotal evidence is positive.  One of Sabet’s main contentions is that marijuana as medicine is unproven with a lot of potential side effects.  This puts medical marijuana squarely in line with most of the pharmaceuticals we use.  Let’s look at a couple examples.

Here is the warning on one widely used drug — If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression, or changes in behavior, thinking, or mood that are not typical for you, or you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia, or confusion, ,,,  The drug described is Chantiz, now widely prescribed as an aid for smoking cessation. 

Let’s look at another one. Side effects include  Allergic reaction: Itching or hives; swelling in the  face or hands; swelling or tingling in the mouth or throat; chest tightness, trouble breathing; breast swelling, pain, or tenderness; lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting; lumps in the breast or under the arm; pain in the testicles; swelling in your hands, ankles, or feet.  This list is from the warning reference the drug Propecia, prescribed for prostate problems.

And from my all time favorite, a shortened list of potential side effects —sudden vision loss; ringing in the ears or sudden hearing loss; cheat pain; sweating, irregular heartbeat; swelling the hands, ankles, or feet; shortness of breath; and that one side effect nobody wants — the world famous four hour erection.  The drug is, of course, Viagra.

Potential side effects aside, as readers of this blog know, my interest is in reducing the violence that surrounds the illegal drug market. And by that criteria,  the medical marijuana movement has had a clear impact.

California is the first state that approved medical marijuana in 1996 and their experience is instructive.  As the number of medical marijuana dispensaries and patients grew, legal marijuana became a significant competitor to the illegal drug market, putting a dent in the revenue of  drug traffickers.  In fact, the widespread belief among many law enforcement and drug experts in the state is that the medical marijuana movement has hurt the business of the drug cartels more than law enforcement efforts. Bottom line — every dollar spent on medical marijuana in the legal market is cash out of the pockets of the drug cartels.

My preference would be full legalization of marijuana, moving it into the legal, regulated marketplace in the same fashion as alcohol and tobacco. This would strike a significant blow against the cartels as marijuana accounts for 60% of their revenue.  Legalizing medical marijuana represents a half-step in this direction and would impact cartel business, but in a less significant fashion.

Any step striking a blow against the drug traffickers’ revenue would be welcome and medical marijuana is a move in the right direction.