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.


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