Past Event

Medical Marijuana: A Gateway to Relief or Addiction?

Week of August 4 – 8

In July, Orange County, California officials approved a proposal that will create a system to identify patients eligible to use marijuana for medical purposes, issue identification cards, validate prescriptions, and monitor care providers who dispense the drug. Physicians and patients who advocate the use of marijuana as a medicinal drug argue that it provides relief from excruciating pain, often as a result of side effects that come with conventional treatments like chemotherapy. Studies have found that marijuana can help patients who have cancer and other diseases deal with pain, nausea, and loss of appetite.

Support for the use of medical marijuana often comes with a call for the decriminalization of the possession of marijuana, at least in small quantities. Most recently, Rep. Barney Frank announced a proposal to "end federal penalties for Americans carrying fewer than 100 grams." If passed, this measure would significantly alter the contentious relationship between states and the Federal government over the issue of marijuana use and possession. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have laws that recognize marijuana as a medical substance. However, these laws contradict Federal law, which declares marijuana a "Schedule I controlled substance." The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) strongly refutes any claims that marijuana has medicinal properties and also contends that "the campaign to allow marijuana to be used as medicine is a tactical manoeuvre in an overall strategy to completely legalize all drugs."

A report from the Sentencing Project in 2005 makes the case that the government’s "War on Drugs" has, effectively, become a war on marijuana. The report also maintains that the relative ease with which users can be stopped on suspicion of possession allows law enforcement officials to unfairly target African-American men. Support for the decriminalization of marijuana possession and the use of medical marijuana includes advocates ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Enterprise Institute.

Are laws that criminalize and punish minor possession and exchange of marijuana unduly harsh and unnecessary? Should we legalize a substance that, according to the DEA, might be more toxic than the haze-inducing hallucinogen of the 1960s? Is advocating for "medical" marijuana a way to legalize more addictive drugs? Or should we aim for laws that provide some restrictions on the use of marijuana, as with alcohol consumption? What does the concept of "medical marijuana" say about our current relationship to the pharmaceutical industry? Is marijuana one more "natural" and "alternative" form of medication? Or is it a drug masquerading as medicine?

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