Question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot in 2012 proposes to allow marijuana to be cultivated and sold in Massachusetts for the use of qualifying patients. To qualify, a patient must have been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV-positive status or AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, or multiple sclerosis. The patient would also have to obtain a written certification, from a physician with whom the patient has a bona fide physician-patient relationship, that the patient has a specific debilitating medical condition and would likely obtain a net benefit from medical use of marijuana.
I recommend a vote of YES in support of medical marijuana in Massachusetts.
My recommendation is based on several independent, but related, factors:
- Marijuana is medically beneficial to certain patients.
- This is a clear-cut states’ rights issue.
- The harm that might arise from the passage of this law is being exaggerated by its opponents, and the benefit from passing the law far exceeds any potential harm.
- I support the lessening of restrictions on marijuana in general, and medical marijuana laws in other states have led to a change in attitude about marijuana and a better understanding that it is far less harmful than most other illegal drugs and deserves to be treated differently.
Marijuana is medically beneficial
In their most recent statement on this issue, the American Medical Assocation (AMA) has acknowledged the apparent medical benefits of marijuana (“reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis”).
The AMA has also called for further studies of the medical use of marijuana. However, studies are extremely difficult to perform because of the federal government’s continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance a classification which the AMA has called upon the federal government to reconsider.
This is a states’ rights issue
Laws similar to the one proposed for Massachusetts are already in effect in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Though the use of marijuana for medical purposes remains illegal under federal law, the policy of the federal government under the current administration has been to not prosecute people in medical marijuana states who are obeying state law, and to step in only when they believe that medical marijuana laws are being used as a front to deal drugs to people without a legitimate medical need.
The fact that 17 states have already enacted medical marijuana laws makes it perfectly clear that this is an issue where many states disagree with the federal government. Furthermore, it seems likely that there is disagreement among the states (we can assume that at least some of the states which have not passed medical marijuana do not wish to do so). On an issue where there is clearly a great deal of disagreement among the states, the federal government must have a compelling national interest to override the rights of the states to set their own policies. I see no such compelling interest here. I certainly do not believe that the federal government’s decades-long failed “war on drugs” qualifies as such a compelling interest.
The proposed medical marijuana law allows marijuana to be grown for and dispensed only to Massachusetts residents, and it requires the plants to be cultivated within the state. As such, the federal government cannot legitimately assert its authority over interstate commerce to justify blocking implementation of the law.
The good outweighs the bad
Opponents of the law point to the potential for abuse, increased addiction among people without a legitimate medical need, the involvement of organized crime, and — gasp! — a positive changes in attitude about marijuana — to justify their opposition to the law.
Let me say it again: medical marijuana laws are already in effect in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Where are the front-page news stories about how all these evils have come to pass in those states? There have been a few, yes, but even the worst of them haven’t come close to proving any serious negative impact from the laws in the states in which they are in effect. The only one of them that is happening is a positive change in attitude about marijuana and, as I discuss below, I view that as a good thing.
In contrast, medical marijuana is having a real, positive impact for a lot of people. Read the list above of debilitating medical conditions which make someone eligible for medical marijuana. There are a lot of people in this country suffering from these conditions, and if there is something that can reduce their suffering, it is inhumane for the law to deny it.
Federal law on marijuana should change
Please note: I have never used marijuana and I doubt that I ever will.
Marijuana is not coke, crack, oxy, crystal meth, speed, or even heroin. It is less harmful and less addictive than other drugs, and the people who use it do not tend to endanger others while they’re high.
Alcohol is far more harmful in all respects than marijuana, and yet it is legal.
The federal ban on marijuana has been no more effective than Prohibition. Federal and state tax dollars are wasted enforcing the ban, and respect for the federal government and its laws is undermined by the widespread disregard for the ban on marijuana.
It is long past time for the federal government to change its misguided stance on marijuana. Every state which rejects the federal stance, by passing laws such as the one proposed by Question 1 or by decriminalizing the use of marijuana as Massachusetts did in 2008, brings us one step closer to when the federal government will change its policy.