What’s the deal with Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana is now a part of the legal landscape in 18 states. Pending legislation in Columbus and a state-wide referendum movement would have Ohio join these other states. While national surveys generally show most citizens support medical marijuana, there remains strong opposition. Dr. Ed Goglek, described as an addictions psychiatrist in Prescott, Arizona, and a board member of Keep AZ Drug Free, recently wrote an opinion piece for the Columbus Dispatch making the case against medical marijuana.
I am a supporter of medical marijuana and in light of the points made by Dr. Goglek, as one of the Seinfeld characters might have put it, “What’s the deal with medical marijuana?” Let’s look at Dr. Goglek’s objections and see if some of the issues raised by him make sense. (See the entire article.)
The major thing that seems to upset Dr. Goglek is that, in his opinion, medical marijuana is “barely medical at all.” He points out that the idea for medical marijuana originated with groups like the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) rather than groups like the American Medical Association (AMA). Further, in his opinion, the medical marijuana movement consists largely of drug users, growers and sellers. He also notes that most marijuana patients do not have serious medical problems but get prescribed marijuana for pain, a complaint Dr. Goglek says is frequently used by addicts to secure drugs from physicians.
Let’s do a reality check on a few of these points. Groups like NORML have led the medical marijuana effort rather than groups like the AMA. So what? In the War on Drugs atmosphere that has dominated the culture for the last 40 years, few medical folks or those from any other profession were willing to take a position that could have been construed as “soft on drugs.” An interesting historical point for Dr. Goglek to ponder is that the AMA was the only group to oppose the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, the original legislation directed at marijuana. AMA spokesperson, Dr. William Woodward, did not believe the evidence was persuasive, and was “bombarded with hostile questions” by congressional members pushing prohibition. (See transcript of Dr. Woodward’s 1937 Testimony)
Let’s look at Dr. Goglek’s complaint that medical marijuana patients do not necessarily have serious medical conditions but most get prescribed marijuana for pain, which Dr. Goglek notes is a common ruse of addicts seeking drugs. Those who read this blog, have read my book, or heard me speak know that my primary goal is to suppress the violence that surrounds drug trafficking. Dr. Goglek is absolutely correct that medical marijuana has moved from a treatment for cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other serious diseases to a more common usage for less serious conditions like sleeplessness, anxiety and Dr. Goglek’s catch-all, pain. My response to this is a resounding cheer! Think about it. Every dollar spent for medical marijuana for any condition is a dollar taken away from the drug cartels. If ingrown toenails, athlete’s foot and jock rash are included in the list of conditions for medical marijuana, I would applaud.* To be clear, I believe the best step is to flat-out legalize marijuana, but short of that, the expansion of medical marijuana will have a debilitating effect on the illegal drug market and that would be something we could all support.
Perhaps the most serious of Dr. Goglek’s accusations is this — “These laws hurt innocent people.” Dr. Goglek notes that drivers under the influence of marijuana have more accidents than non-users. This is hardly a surprise. Those who drink alcohol and drive are more likely to have accidents. Those who text and drive are more likely to have accidents. Inattentive drivers are more likely to have accidents. Let me be clear. I wish people did not do any of these things and I strongly support criminal penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana. But let’s put the issue into a larger context.
The number one admonition for medical professionals is FIRST — DO NO HARM. Dr. Goglek seems blind to the fact that laws against marijuana hurt people also. In 2012, about 3/4 of a million people were arrested for marijuana possession. These arrests have a serious impact not only on the individual but on the larger community. Dr. Goglek and his prohibitionists friends rarely talk about either the damage done to these folks through a criminal charge or the absolute hypocrisy on display when our political leaders, including the last three presidents, indulged in the same behavior that Dr. Goglek and his ilk want to keepcriminal.
Look — nobody should pretend that marijuana use comes without its own set of problems. The choice here is which policy approach can best minimize our country’s drug problems and suppress the violence afflicting nearly every community in our country. My strong belief is that ending the 40 year War on Drugs and legalizing marijuana brings with it a list of positives that overwhelm the concerns that my friend Dr. Goglek so nicely articulates.
* Note that Dr. Goglek’s disdain for medical marijuana is not shared by many of his medical colleagues. See a survey of doctors on Web MD.