Should Marijuana Be Legalized For Medical Purposes

? Essay, Research Paper

Should Marijuana be Legalized for Medical Purposes?

Marijuana has been used extensively as a medical remedy for more than

five thousand years. In the early 1900s, medical usage of marijuana began to

decline with the advent of alternative drugs. Injectable opiates and synthetic

drugs such as aspirin and barbiturates began to replace marijuana as the

physician’s drug of choice in the twentieth-century, as their results proved to

be more consistent than the sometimes erratic effects of the hard-to-dose

potencies of marijuana (Grinspoon). The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made cannabis

so expensive to obtain that its usage as a medical remedy in the U.S. came to a

halt. Although now illegal in the U.S., marijuana continues to be used for both

medical and recreational purposes by many Americans. There are a variety of

opinions both for and against the re-legalization of marijuana today. Perhaps

the most controversial aspect of the legalization debate is whether marijuana

should be legalized for medical purposes.

All drugs, both prescription and non-prescription, are federally

‘Scheduled’ by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). A drug’s scheduling under

Federal law is determined ?according to [its] effects, medical uses, and

potential for abuse? (Claim V). In this classification system, marijuana is a

Schedule I drug, grouped with heroin, LSD, hashish, methaqualone, and designer

drugs. These are drugs having ?unpredictable effects, and [causing] severe

psychological or physical dependence, or death? (Claim V).

A closer analysis of the DEA’s Federal Scheduling system reveals that,

according to various studies by physicians on both sides of the legalization

debate, marijuana does not meet the requirements of a Schedule I drug, but not

those of Schedule II. The difference between the two classes is that Schedule

I drugs may lead to death, while those on Schedule II are less likely to do so.

Proponents of legalization cite information that indicates marijuana is a

relatively ?safe? drug. ?There is no known case of overdose; on the basis of

animal models, the ratio of lethal to effective dose is 40,000 to 1? (Grinspoon).

Even some opponents of marijuana legalization support reclassification. Two

physicians, in a widely distributed opinions piece entitled ?Marijuana Smoking

as Medicine: A Cruel Hoax?, wrote; ?While the reclassification of THC to

Schedule II might be understandable, this would not be the result of smoking the

crude drug marijuana, which would as a result become more available and more

readily diverted for non-medical use? (Nahas). Although this evidence clearly

does not support the legalization of marijuana, it highlights one of many

discrepancies that cloud this smoky debate.

Lester Grinspoon, MD, is a proponent of the medical legalization and re-

classification of marijuana. In the Journal of the American Medical Association,

Dr. Grinspoon wrote an article entitled ?A Plea for Reconsideration?. In this

plea, Grinspoon suggests that marijuana should be reclassified to a Schedule II

class drug, so that it might be legally prescribed. He writes:

In a 1990 survey, 44% of oncologists said they had suggested

that a patient smoke marihuana for relief of the nausea

induced by chemotherapy. If marihuana were actually unsafe

for use under medical supervision, as its Schedule I status

explicitly affirms, this recommendation would be unthinkable.

It is time for physicians to acknowledge more openly that

this present classification is scientifically, legally, and

morally wrong. (Grinspoon)

Like many other physicians fighting for the re-classification of marijuana, Dr.

Grinspoon makes claims only towards the drug’s medical benefits. However, their

rhetoric in calling the issue ?morally wrong? suggests that they may have other

motives as well.

Furthermore, the fact that ?44% of oncologists? suggested their patients

use marijuana, despite its illegality, may suggest that many of these physicians

have little respect for post-prohibition laws. The article also fails to address

the negative side-effects of marijuana that result from smoking the plant.

While there are many physicians who support the reclassification (and,

sometimes, legalization) of marijuana, still others make different claims. In

July of 1995, one month after ?Marijuana as Medicine- A Plea for Reconsideration?

was published in JAMA, the Department of Health and Human Services held its

first research conference on marijuana. At this conference, several respected

physicians noted that ?marijuana use during pregnancy has harmful effects on

children’s intellectual abilities… compulsive marijuana use may lead to an

addiction similar to that of other illicit drugs…? (Claim V); and, finally,

that ?marijuana use can put a serious choke-hold on users who try to quit?

(Claim V). Conflicting reports, such as these, are at the center of the smoke

filled battle concerning medical legalization. In this case, the physicians

assembled at the conference commented only on the drug’s negative effects, and

they failed to discuss any possible beneficial effects.

Although there are physicians both for and against the medical

legalization of marijuana, the DEA enforces the laws. The DEA regularly makes

publications against legalization. Claim V of these publications is entitled ?

There are no Compelling Reasons to Prescribe Marijuana or Heroin to Sick people?.

In this claim, the DEA makes contradictory claims to those published in JAMA by

Dr. Grinspoon. The DEA claims that ?Not one American health association accepts

marijuana as medicine. Statements issued by these organizations express concern

over the harmful effects of the drugs and over the lack of solid research

demonstrating that they might do more good than harm? (Claim V). However, in

reading the DEA’s clam, one must keep in mind that ?drugs? (as they use it)

includes both marijuana and heroin, and therefore may be partially invalid when

applied to the central marijuana debate. By using the word ?they?, the DEA

groups marijuana with more dangerous drugs. It should also be recognized that

the DEA has an obvious bias against legalizing drugs; if all drugs were legal,

who would continue to pay their salaries?

Doctors and the DEA, however, are not the only ones with opinions about

marijuana’s medical re-legalization. Mike Dooley, a member of the National

Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), made news when he recommended

that Elvy Musikka, a patient legally supplied with marijuana from the U.S.

government, spoke to an ?Experimental Living? class at Western Michigan

University: ?Elvy Musikkia, a professional speaker, has glaucoma and take

marijuana as part of her treatment for the eye disease. Glaucoma patients smoke

marijuana cigarettes because it relieves the eye pressure that leads to

blindness? (Kemp). However, Dooley supports more than the medical legalization

of marijuana. ?Dooley says using marijuana for medical purposes is just one use

of the plant, but people need to recognize that it has more positive uses?

(Kemp). Like many other advocates of legalization, Dooley wants more than just

medical legalization: ?’Why are we outlawing this particular plant?’ Dooley

said. ‘What is wrong with adults smoking marijuana in their own environment?’?

(Kemp). Opponents of legalization efforts worry that legalization for medical

purposes will eventually lead to non-medical abuse.

An example of this type of medical abuse can be found in the 1995 Comedy,

Friday. In the film, a corrupted priest tries to obtain marijuana from Smokey,

a neighborhood pot addict. Upon noticing the marijuana, he says ?Excuse me

brother, what we call drugs at 74th street Baptist Church, we call a sin?

(Friday), representing the views of many Christians today. Only a short time

later, however, he changes his mind, saying: ?Why don’t you give me a little bit

for my cataracts?? (Friday). This film makes a comment on the attitudes of U.S.

society today towards marijuana, and re-legalization. By making a medical

excuse for using marijuana in the film, Brother William conveys the worries of

many Americans today about medical legalization of the drug. While it may be

suggested that Friday is satirist comedy, and therefore not ?real?, critics of

the film and of legalization will point out that later in the movie, the

characters make an outright plea for legalization.

Religious figures in real life express stronger anti-legalization

opinions than those in the movies. In 1986, ?representatives of four Oregon

church groups, representing a combined membership of tens of thousands, unveiled

a plan to attack the proposed legalization of marijuana from the pulpit? (Danks).

The representatives cited experiences like those Reverend John Jackson; Jackson

spoke about how his son’s drug habit broke up the family. ?’It got to the point

that I kept a weapon,’ Jackson said. ‘My son didn’t act like my son. I got to

the point where I thought if he came into the room I would kill him? (Danks).

Many would be quick t discount the reverend’s opinion, however, especially after

hearing of his fatal mentality. It should also be noted that Jackson’s son, who

is now in the army, ?graduated to harder drugs after using marijuana as a 10-

year-old? (Danks).

Other religious groups have more extreme views on legalization. In an

on-line publication entitled ?Marijuana and Christians: Cure or Curse??, a group

for ?Aggressive Christianity? writes that: ?Through the innocently appearing

guise of the ‘natural herbal high’ called marijuana, Satan has found an open

doorway for invasion into the minds of millions of people? (Marijuana and

Christians). These ?Aggressive Christians? decree that marijuana is one of

Satan’s tools and should not be legalized for any purpose. However, in calling

it ?Satan’s tool? they incorporate little knowledge of the drug’s true effects,

both positive and negative. For these extremists, there is apparently no reason

for Satanists not to use marijuana. Groups such as these ?Aggressive Christians?

represent the most conservative side of the battle over legalization.

College campuses are often recognized for their liberal views and high

drug consumption levels. Adam Djurdjulov, a journalism senior and Arizona Daily

Wildcat opinions editor writes a column that appears in that publication on

Mondays. In his column, titled ?Airing it Out,? he recently wrote an article, ?

Smoking marijuana is as accepted as the word ‘damn.’? In this column,

Djurdjulov criticizes the increasing acceptance of marijuana use. He states his

un-professional medical opinion on marijuana, saying it ?[is] a substance that

destroys motivation and wazzu brain cells? (Djurdjulov). Although he makes a

valid argument that drug use proliferates on today’s college campuses,

Djurdjulov weakens his own credibility when he suggests that Americans ‘kick

out’ Bill Clinton from President of the United States for exercising his right

to free speech, writing ?Hell, on MTV in June 1992, Clinton quipped that if he

tried marijuana again, he would inhale? (Djurdjulov). Although many Americans

might disagree with Clinton’s ?liberal? policies towards drug use, few would

condone his removal from office, solely for exercising his first amendment

rights. Like the ?Aggressive Christians,? Djurdjulov’s non-scientific,

extremist position somewhat destroys his credibility, along with the credibility

of his statements. Other college students feel differently about legalization.

Oliver Petri, a freshman at the University of Arizona, is a proponent of

marijuana legalization for medical and recreational purposes. In an interview,

Petri explains that ?I once knew a woman with cancer. She grew [marijuana]

plants in her backyard and smoked weed to relive her suffering. It should

totally be legal? (Petri). Petri’s comments epitomize the views of many college

students who advocate legalization. Few of these students, however, have any

knowledge of the medical uses and properties of the drug they consume for

recreational purposes. Petri also admittedly supports medical legalization

initiatives because he thinks it will make marijuana easier to find.

California’s proposition 215 is an initiative that would legalize

marijuana for medical purposes. ?[Proposition 215] would permit patients with

cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, arthritis, and other serious illnesses to grow, posses

and use marijuana? (Lacayo). Despite criticism of Prop 215 that suggests the

initiative is ?too loosely constructed?, polls show that California voters favor

it by almost 2-1 (Lacayo). Opponents of the initiative worry that anyone will

be able to legally obtain and use marijuana under Proposition 215, ?’This

proposition is not about medicine,’ charges Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates,

co-chairman of Citizens for a Drug Free California, the campaign opposing Prop

215. ‘It’s about the legalization of marijuana’? (Lacayo). Voters like Sheriff

Gates are unable to consider medical legalization because of their fears of

increased recreational use. There opinion, then, means nothing when applied to

the issue on a smaller scale.

Reputable sources on marijuana’s true effects are hard to come by.

Conflicting reports suggest that personal opinion might be more of a factor than

it should be in many reports about the drug’s effects and toxicity. Words such

as ?dangerous? and ?harmful? are often used by figures on both sides of the

legalization debate, with little explanation of their definitions. No-one knows

what the results of a non-biased study on marijuana’s medical future might

contain, because conflicting ?non-biased? studies continue to proliferate on

both sides of this debate. Because of the wide availability of marijuana today,

it is not surprising that marijuana usage for many today is a personal, rather

than legal, decision.

Works Cited

“Claim V: There Are No Compelling Medical Reasons to Prescribe

Marijuana or Heroin to Sick People.” DEA- Publication: Speaking

out Against Drug Legalization: Claim V. Online. Internet. 6 August

1996. Danks, Holly. “Churches Fight Marijuana Legalization.” The


21 June 1986: C1. Djurdjulov, Adam. “Smoking is as accepted as the word

‘damn.’” The

Arizona Daily Wildcat. 14 October 1996: 4. Friday. Dir. Gerry Lively.

Perf. Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, John

Witherspoon. Videocassette. New Line Home Video, 1995. Grinspoon,

Lester, MD, and Bakalar, James. “Commentary: Marijuana as

Medicine- A plea for reconsideration.” Journal of the American Medical

Association. June 1995. Kemp, Roxine. “Speaker to Talk About Medical Marijuana,


Western Herald. News. Online. 16 October 1996. Lacayo, Richard.

“Marijuana: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.” Time

8 October 1996: 36-37. Nahas, Gabriel, MD, and Pace, Nicholas, MD

“Marijuana Smoking as Medicine:

A Cruel Hoax.” Usenet Newsgroups. Online. 16 August1996. “Marijuana

and Christians: Cure or Curse?” Aggressive Christianity.

Online. Internet. 6 October 1996.



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