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ISSUE 118 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/22/2004

Election hotbox: Three states vote on marijuana

By Peter Gloviczki
Executive Editor


Friday, October 22, 2004

This November, citizens in three states will vote on legislation about the use of marijuana. In Montana, the proposed initiative seeks to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Oregon initiative seeks to make medicinal marijuana more widely available, and the proposed measure on the ballot in Alaska seeks to legalize marijuana use for citizens 21 years and older.

These proposed initiatives raise a worthwhile question: What are the legitimate medicinal uses of this drug? Marijuana is used as a painkiller for those who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

According to David Crarys Oct. 11 Miami Herald article, there is, in fact, little objection from the state government in Montana regarding the authorization of medicinal marijuana.

Rather than the use of medicinal marijuana, which is already permitted in nine states, the larger questions relate to the proposed legislation in Oregon and Alaska, respectively.

Namely, what happens if we make it easier for patients to receive medicinal marijuana, and what are the implications of legalizing marijuana?

The proposed measure in Oregon, according to Crary, would create state-regulated dispensaries to supply marijuana, let authorized growers sell pot to patients for a profit, and allow patients to possess a pound of it at a time instead of the current three-ounce limit.

The Oregon initiative would make it easier to obtain marijuana, but given that its use will still be controlled by the state  and thus limited to chronically-ill patients seeking pain relief. The initiative is a good one because it seeks to ease patients suffering.

While some may argue that expanding medicinal use of marijuana in Oregon would lead to potential problems with abuse and misuse of the drug, the proposed legislation does make marijuana easier to obtain -- through state-dispensaries, authorized sellers and an increase in the amount which patients are allowed to possess  but it maintains that marijuana can be used only for medicinal purposes.

A patient seeking marijuana to ease chronic suffering has a legitimate reason to use the drug, and the Oregon initiative strives towards that worthwhile goal.

The Alaska initiative, however, goes too far. To decriminalize marijuana entirely leaves the door open for excessive, and potentially avoidable, drug abuse.

Some may argue that there is such a thing as responsible marijuana use. Others may state that if marijuana were legalized, its use would actually go down because, as a legalized drug, it would no longer have a kind of rebellious appeal.

Both these claims are worthy of discussion, but they do not justify the legalization of marijuana. Namely, the proposed legislation in Alaska steps beyond the legitimate medicinal uses of the drug, and caters to the interests of recreational drug users.

Despite its legitimate uses in the medicine field, we must not forget that marijuana is a most dangerous drug. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuses website (www.nida.nih.gov), the short-term effects of marijuana use include: problems with memory and learning, distorted perception & trouble with thinking and problem[-]solving, loss of motor coordination and increased heart rate.

The same website also discusses the long-term effects of the drug, especially as they relate to cancer risk. Specifically, the website references a 1988 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which states that someone who smokes five joints per day may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.

When a drug is legalized there is a popular perception that, because the drug is legal, it must also be relatively safe for human consumption.

In this line of reasoning, the drugs legalization would cause a rise, rather than a decline, in marijuana use. As the information from the National Institute of Drug Abuse makes clear, the short and long-term effects of marijuana are very damaging to human health  much more damaging than tobacco products.

While marijuana use is legitimate for those seeking relief from chronic pain  and the initiatives in Montana and Oregon would help patients to do just that  the drug should not be legalized for non-medicinal purposes. Therefore, the initiative to legalize marijuana in Alaska is not warranted.





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