Should Marijuana Be Legalized For Medical Purposes?
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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-
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.
"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
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.