Saturday, October 20, 2007

2007 - For more than 300 Rhode Islanders, Marijuana Provides Legal Relief

Amanda Milkovits
The Providence Journal
Sunday, Sept 9, 2007

I chose this article because it has relevance to all of our daily lives—it's important to know about the current state of medicinal marijuana laws in Rhode Island. This article, originally published in the Providence Journal, uses a combination of emotion and facts to talk about this history of marijuana legislation in RI and how it has affected its denizens. The Governor of Rhode Island, Carcieri, vetoed twice against the use of medicinal marijuana, but both times his vetoes were overturned by the General Assembly. The latest vetoed legislation legalizes medicinal marijuana, and it was overturned and made legal in Jan 2006. It permanent this past summer. The law, called the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, allows patients with serious medical conditions, like cancer, HIV and MS, to possess the drug. They're allowed to have up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of marijuana, and their legalized caregiver is allowed to grow it for them. A caregiver can have up to five patients, and up to 24 plants at one time if they have more than one patient. This system has been abused once so far to date: a patient/caregiver pair were arrested for having dozens more plants than they were allowed. The caregiver has to be clean record—no felony convictions—and both the caregiver and patient are given identity cards.

As of Aug of 2007, the program has 302 patients and 316 caregivers enrolled. Although these people may be protected under state law, it's still federally illegal to possess medicinal marijuana. The United States DEA has raided California dispensaries, which sell marijuana to people with identity cards, and they could raid Rhode Island too. Although Rhode Island is the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana, the citizens living in those states are subject to federal persecution, as ruled by the Supreme Court decision in 2005. People may worry about the Feds, but the article made a clear point with personal anecdotal stories of the miraculous pain mediating effects of marijuana, and it seemed to be worth the risk for many people. Common illnesses for marijuana include Multiple sclerosis, cancer, and chronic pain of some sort, like back pain.

This is a clear example of how a court decision has had direct impact on the states, like Rhode Island, and thus on us. The paradox contradiction between federal law and state law can't continue, because to say that these laws give mixed messages is an understatement. They directly contradict each other, so this matter will have to have jurisdiction under state law or federal law, but not under both. This is also an example of the split of our country between the liberals and conservatives. Liberal states refuse to abide by the laws of a conservative government. In Brown's community, this idea is acceptable and even encouraged, but what about when a liberal government is in power and the conservative states do the same thing? What if abortion were made illegal in 11 states but the federal government legalized it? If people were to be prosecuted by the state government but exonerated by the federal, then every matter would try to make it the the supreme court, which is impossible, and people would be unfairly incarcerated. Our society has to legally agree on what is moral, because two conflicting sets of laws make an impossible situation to live in. Coming from a liberal community, I think that medicinal marijuana should be legalized on a federal level. If it helps to treat pain, and has minimal side effects, then people should be allowed to have access to it. Our Puritanical roots make the idea of legalizing drugs scary, because many fear that marijuana is the gateway drug to other, more destructive drugs. That logic may not be correct—the article presented many stories of people who claim that using marijuana allows them to stop using their pain medication, which is much more addictive. I'm glad that medicinal marijuana is legalized in Rhode Island, but that statement will mean more if the modifier that it's still federally illegal isn't needed.


Monday, October 15, 2007

2006 - F.D.A. Dismisses Medical Benefit From Marijuana

This article, published on April 2006 in The New York Times, presents the reader with the ongoing battle between politics and science regarding the medical benefits and legalization of marijuana in the United States. In 2006 the FDA announced its dismissal of any medical benefits stemming from Marijuana use, a decision that might have been shaped by societal pressures and manipulations by opponents of medical marijuana use on the FDA. Opinions on this subject are constantly being adapted to politician’s interests and beliefs by the use of legislation. The FDA’s viewpoints seem to stem more from political ideologies than from scientific data.

The FDA’s statement clearly contradicts the opinions of highly regarded scientists who believe in the positive effects of marijuana use for some patients. There is currently a dangerous reluctance from the part of the federal government to acknowledge the benefits of medical marijuana. Research on the subject is discouraged; studies proving marijuana’s benefits on certain diseases are never published. Statements without proof, such as marijuana being a gateway drug, are often used to discourage and attack this field of research. The federal government dismisses the opinions of prestigious medical institutes; ignorance stems from their desire to keep their attention away from controversial issues.

This article shows the unreliability of viewpoints given by any side regarding the legalization and medical benefits from marijuana use. We must be aware that most of the information regarding this subject is shaped by personal interests and might not be legitimate. Consequently, we must be skeptical whenever we read anything regarding the use of marijuana as medicinal therapy. Although in this article, it is made clear that in the medical community there is unanimous agreement on the advantageous effects of marijuana as medical therapy.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

2005 - Which Causes More Harm: Marijuana or Marijuana Laws?

“Response to the American Academy of Pediatrics Report on Legalization of Marijuana”
by Curren Warf

I found this article on PubMed. It was published in Pediatrics in November of 2005 in response to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stance against the legalization of marijuana. When assessing whether marijuana should be legalized or not, one needs to determine which is more harmful: marijuana or marijuana laws?

The author of this article, Curren Warf, argues that advocates against legalization are essentially advocating the “establishment of criminal records and imprisonment of young people and adults for a common exploratory behavior.” According to advocates against the legalization of marijuana, those found in possession of marijuana should have a one year prison sentence and lose voting rights. However, in my opinion, marijuana use is so widespread that any enforcement of the law is unavoidably capricious and unjust. What we do to people for using marijuana may be far worse than any biomedical consequences of the drug.

The United States has approximately 25% of the world’s incarcerated population, which is well over 2 million people. About 80% of the incarcerated population were arrested for a drug-related offense. The young people with records are then stigmatized for employment and professional education. When young people are incarcerated, they are taken out of their normal social environments into one that is much more dangerous. This is all a result of irrational drug laws. What we do to marijuana users is much more harmful than the physical or psychological effects of marijuana. Classifying marijuana as a schedule I narcotic is equating marijuana level of dangerousness to heroin.

Marijuana is even considered to be less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. When America experimented with Prohibition, there was an increase in alcoholism and the monopolization of the alcohol market by organized crime and the explosion of violence regarding its markets and sale. Prohibition was more socially destructive than alcoholism. As a result of drugs being illegal is that organizations are involved in the transportation and sale of these drugs operate outside the law.

If there is a successful policy of having the marijuana plant illegal, there would be some chief consequences. Tens of millions of Americans use marijuana and it is a major crash crop. There is a reason why criminalization of marijuana has been such a failure. Nobody advocates for adolescents to use marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco, but millions of adolescents use it. It must be accepted that it is merely a part of the exploratory and experimental behaviors in which many adolescents engage. The illegal status of marijuana means that many young people come into contact with people who sell other, more dangerous drugs, and by purchasing marijuana may expose themselves to becoming more involved in more serious drug use. In conclusion, marijuana laws are more harmful than the drug itself.


Friday, October 5, 2007

2005 - Federal Crackdown on Medical Marijuana

Gonzalez, Attorney General, et al. v. Raich et al.

Argued: November 29, 2004

Decided: June 6, 2005

I was researching the legal history of medical marijuana legislation when I came across a very important Supreme Court case. This post is based off of the Supreme Court syllabus in Gonzalez vs. Raich.

On June 6, 2005 the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Gonzalez (the Attorney General) that the United States Federal Government can prosecute medical marijuana users. To be more precise, it ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), had the authority to prevent citizens from using medical marijuana despite state law. Angel Raich had been authorized by the state of California to grow marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 which gives specific individuals the right to use the plant for medical purposes if other medicines prove to be ineffective. According to the case syllabus, Raich and co-defendant Diane Monson claimed that enforcement of the CSA against them was a "violation of the 5th, 9th, and 10th amendments, the Commerce Clause, and the doctrine of medical necessity."

This case raises very obvious issues regarding states rights. The federal government is prosecuting individuals who are acting lawfully according to state law. Normally a decision like this would be controversial on that token alone, but marijuana is a far more sensitive issue. From the federal government’s perspective, California law was undermining its current War on Drugs. California lawmakers, on the other hand, view DEA involvement as an infringement on their right to decide what is acceptable for their citizens. The Supreme Court Justices were well aware of all of this when they ruled in favor of Gonzales.

Since it was passed, Gonzalez vs. Raich has had a significant effect. Countless medical marijuana distributors and users have been affected. This is why the decision is so monumental. When those six justices ruled in favor of Gonzalez and the federal government, the medical marijuana controversy entered a new era, a time where gravely sick users of the plant would have to worry about being persecuted.

I don’t know whether the federal government or the states should have jurisdiction in matters like these, but I do know where I personally stand. If a state like California has decided that marijuana use will benefit these sick individuals and the users themselves attest to its benefits, the federal government should not intervene and say otherwise unless it has proof that it doesn’t. The War on Drugs has spanned several administrations and the philosophy behind it is outdated. Clearly if the states have decided there might be a medical benefit to marijuana, it cannot qualify under the Schedule 1 categorization. In the end, prosecuting users before the debate is settled only puts at risk those who are already in the most vulnerable position of all.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

2001 - The Need for Weed: Medical Marijuana
Amina Ali

"I'm 39 years old… and, yes, of course I tried it before, I mean obviously.” These are the words of Canada’s Federal Justice Minister Martin Caucho, uttered during a press conference on July 2002. Surprising, right?

Canada currently has a very liberal and tolerant view towards the medicinal use of marijuana. I found this article browsing through the CBC’s official homepage. It deals with a milestone event in the history of medicinal marijuana.

On July 2001, after the Ontario Court decided that making marijuana illegal for everyone was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedom, Canada became the first country to adopt a system regulating the medicinal use of marijuana. The decision came after Terrence Parker, an epileptic who smoked in order to control his seizures, argued that his arrest for possession of marijuana was a violation of his right as a Canadian citizen of liberty and security. The court realized that other arrested marijuana users, much like in Parker’s case, had been exempted from legal repercussions. It was clear to them that marijuana use was justified for specific medical cases. The court’s ruling came from the desire to fix the lack of guidelines for the acquirement of the substance for these specific patients.

The ruling designed these set of standards for legal marijuana use: In order to legally acquire marijuana in Canada you need to suffer from a terminal illness or a severe chronic disease like arthritis or epilepsy. As a patient you must show that marijuana is the only option for therapy in your particular case. After receiving approval for marijuana use, you can either buy it from companies licensed by the government or you are given a specific amount of marijuana that you are allowed to grow yourself.
In 2003, these guidelines were declared unconstitutional, since they didn’t offer enough legal supply of the drug. In response to the claims, the government put in action an order to provide dried marijuana seeds to those authorized to use it as medical therapy.

Canada’s government portrayed an exemplary attitude when dealing with this issue. Authority figures throughout the government were able to ignore their prejudices and bias in order to protect the rights, liberty, and security of their citizens. When their legal principles proved not to be fair, they were willing to analyze and modify them. Regardless of your beliefs on the effects of marijuana as medical therapy, when looking at this issue you have to believe in the importance of keeping an open mind and having the willingness to change your thoughts upon reliable evidence that might disprove them.


Monday, October 1, 2007

1996 - California Approves of Medical Marijuana

Proposition 215: The Compassionate Use Act

California, November 1996

This post concerns the first time it became legal to provide marijuana to citizens of the United States. In November of 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215 with a margin of 56%. Proposition 215, now known as the Compassionate Use Act, removed the state’s criminal penalties for medical marijuana use by patients with,

“written or oral recommendation of a physician. It legalized cannabis use for the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

I chose to write about the Compassionate Use Act because of its significance to the medical marijuana controversy. This proposition essentially began the legal debate in the United States and led the way for other states. Since 1996, 11 other states have also approved the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Part of the reason for why this is so controversial is because it goes against its categorization as a Schedule I drug and challenges current doctrine on whether or not marijuana users should be punished and how harsh their convictions should be.

I, along with the people who have voted in favor of medical marijuana, believe that there must be some validity to the claims of the people who say it has benefited them. If the states in this country are beginning to approve the use of marijuana for medical purposes, it cannot be as harmful as the federal government claims. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to believe that someone suffering with cancer or glaucoma would fight so passionately for their right to use cannabis for the sole sake of "just getting high".

I believe there are two reasons for why it remains controversial despite legislation like the Compassionate Use Act. The first is that there is conflicting research on the risks and benefits of marijuana use. Anyone looking into the scientific foundations behind this issue find research that supports the use of cannabis along with research that condemns it. That’s obviously confusing for both voters and legislators. At the very least all the parties involved in the debate agree that more research needs to be done. The second reason, why I believe the issue remains controversial, is tied to the stigma behind marijuana in our society. As a result of the War on Drugs, national drug education programs like D.A.R.E, or 1930's propaganda like “Reefer Madness,” American culture has placed a taboo on discussing the potential benefits of marijuana for certain individuals. Merely suggesting that research has to be done, or supporting favorable legislation prompts many to label you as a marijuana user and thus dismiss your opinion as the biased preference of an addict.

The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 has done a great deal to undermine that dismissal. Backed by doctors and needy individuals, it opened up the minds of those who would have otherwise voted against it. After all, even if one is against the use of marijuana by the general public, one doesn’t have to necessarily prohibit its use for absolutely every group. Medical marijuana legislation only affects those who claim to need it. In my opinion, if doctors and patients agree that medical marijuana is effective treatment, how is anyone else going to say that it is not? Is their word more important than that of experts and the people who actually have these problems?

So far, 12 states have voted in one way or another that they agree with this opinion.