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Are Federal Medicinal Marijuana Bans Hurting Patients?

Marijuana is somewhat of a paradox in the U.S., at least in the legal sense. At the federal level, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, a classification reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and addiction that also have no accepted medical use. However, the majority of state legislatures disagree.

As of mid-2019, in fact, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, Washington, D.C., and four U.S. territories. An additional 14 states have laws allowing for the use of cannabis-derived products with low THC, which is the psychoactive component in marijuana. Only Idaho, South Dakota, and Nebraska completely ban cannabis in all forms, even for medical use.

Public support of medical marijuana reached an all-time high in 2017, with 94% of Americans supporting the use of medical marijuana among adult patients when prescribed by a doctor. Yet it remains federally illegal, a fact that some believe is problematic for patients. In some instances, medical marijuana patients may even turn to illegal channels to obtain their medication -- or face legal action for possessing a federally controlled substance.

Medical Marijuana: Pros and Cons

Specific medical conditions for which marijuana can be prescribed vary by state. Healthcare professionals can prescribe marijuana to treat a variety of conditions, from chronic pain and HIV/AIDS to nausea, anxiety, epilepsy, and eating disorders. In many circles, marijuana is viewed as a safer alternative to opioid-based pain relievers, and side effects are typically minimal.

When used at low doses, marijuana's side effects include fatigue and dry mouth. Higher doses, however, may produce more serious side effects, such as paranoia and dizziness. Male patients may also find that medical marijuana use can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). While marijuana use may actually increase a patient's sex drive, the ability to perform may be an issue for those under the influence.

Patients should be aware of the potential effects of marijuana use and discuss any concerns with their healthcare providers. One potential side effect that may be overlooked is a reduced ability to operate heavy machinery, including vehicles. Despite the fact that driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal, instances of drugged driving have actually increased in recent years. The University of Nevada, Reno reports that, in 2007, 8.6% of drivers tested positive for marijuana. By 2014, that number had increased to 12.6% of drivers, and state lawmakers continue to search for solutions to the growing issue.

A History of Marijuana Prohibition

Conflicting laws often leave medical marijuana patients behind. For example, although the state of California was the first to legalize marijuana for medical use back in 1996, it remained banned in the city of Fresno until late 2018. In the interim, patients with a medical marijuana prescription could be fined for possession despite the overarching state law.

During the ban, many medical marijuana patients in Fresno went underground to obtain their medication. Illegal dispensaries and delivery services popped up across the city, similar to the speakeasies seen in the days of alcohol prohibition. While patients in Fresno can now visit legal dispensaries, crossing state lines with a medical marijuana prescription remains problematic.

Even if marijuana was obtained legally and is intended for medical use, those possessing the substance can still be charged with a crime in states with marijuana bans on the books. The charges one can face depends on several factors, including the amount of marijuana in one's possession, the circumstances of the situation, and specific state laws.

And these laws can be extremely limiting. For instance, in South Carolina, a state that heavily criminalizes marijuana, you could be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia for merely "(p)ossessing instructions or depictions (oral or written) that show how objects in your possession can be used with marijuana." It's important to note that law enforcement officials aren't obligated to honor a medical marijuana card issued by another state.

The Future of Marijuana Legalization

Arguably the best way to protect medical marijuana patients is to legalize the substance at the federal level, but we're still years away from that possibility. However, marijuana legislation topics are a major talking point of many candidates heading into the 2020 election. Beto O'Rourke, for example, advocates for the full legalization of marijuana for all adult users. In addition, several democratic hopefuls support the removal of marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs, including senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders. But a change in the federal classification of marijuana is just the first step in a larger battle.

The good news is that the federal government is unlikely to get involved in the simple matter of marijuana possession, especially among those individuals with a valid medical prescription. In fact, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, passed in 2014, prohibits the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. For now, the issues of recreational and medical marijuana remain in the hands of individual states. Medical marijuana patients must remain vigilant when crossing state lines, and they should also make sure to research local marijuana laws before traveling.

Posted by jhamilton at July 3, 2019 3:16 PM
Comments
Comment #445737

God Bless the United States of America, those who love her, and those who defend her.

Posted by: Royal Flush at July 3, 2019 6:00 PM
Comment #445782

Conflicting laws often leave medical marijuana patients behind. For example, although the state of California was the first to legalize marijuana for medical use back in 1996…

The above snippet is a good example of the dangers of the ballot initiative. The 1996 California initiative did not legalize marijuana, it decriminalized it. In layman terms, it offered a defense for the possession of marijuana for persons that had a marijuana medicinal card. It was up to each jurisdiction to decide to accept this defense or not.

When first presented to the voters, the poorly written 1996 initiative was said to allow access to marijuana for terminally ill patients. What it actually said was that the initiative was for the decriminalization of marijuana use for the “seriously sick”. Over the years the term “seriously sick” was expanded to mean anything a doctor was willing to accept or the patient was willing to make up.

The proponents of marijuana use, make sure they put forth the pictures of the older sickliest patients when expanding the initiative in court or appealing to public opinion. It wouldn’t do to have a picture of healthy 20 somethings, sitting around and getting stoned, even though they are the biggest demographic of pot users.

Eventually Governor Brown wrote a white paper allowing the formation of co-ops. This is for people with medicinal marijuana cards and without the knowledge or expertise to grown marijuana, to band together and grow the marijuana they wanted and share the costs. This again got expanded to skirt the laws to become marijuana dispensaries, which sales marijuana at a price that exceeds the price of gold.

Now that marijuana has been legalized in California, there are still issues. For one, it is still against federal law, which includes employment laws. So companies can still fire you if they find you partake in marijuana. Communities can still determine if they want to allow dispensaries within their jurisdiction or not.

THC, the active ingredient in marijuana stays in the blood stream for a period of time. And some reports indicate that it still affects ones function, days after smoking/ingesting marijuana. Therefore testing someone driving under the influence of marijuana can be complicated.

Finally, I’ve heard that marijuana is the cure from everything from cancer/leukemia to organ failure. But as of yet in part due to restrictions on research, there are no acceptable recognized medical use for marijuana.

I’ve always hated the comment that marijuana is not as bad as alcohol. As if this is a valid reason to allow something, the fact that there is something worse. However I do recognize that it will be eventually legalized in every state, and until the federal government legalizes it, there will be confusion.

Posted by: Cube at July 5, 2019 7:22 PM
Comment #445811

Marijuana can be beneficial for very ill and terminal patients, but marijuana will also make you lazy, apathetic, and damage your short-term memory. And some findings show that regular marijuana smokers in their teenage years are more likely to have memory problems as adults.

Posted by: d.a.n at July 6, 2019 8:50 AM
Comment #445947

Marijuana is somewhat of a paradox in the U.S., at least in the legal sense. At the federal level, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, a classification reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and addiction that also have no accepted medical use.
yes its a main point i want to read

Posted by: zain hayat at July 9, 2019 12:57 PM
Comment #446092

marijuana is one of the slow poison which is harming our young generation. Thanks sharing such article with us

Posted by: Peaky Blinders Alfie Solomons at July 13, 2019 2:43 AM
Comment #446172

The above snippet is a good example of the dangers of the ballot initiative. The 1996 California initiative did not legalize marijuana, it decriminalized it. In layman terms, it offered a defense for the possession of marijuana for persons that had a marijuana medicinal card. It was up to each jurisdiction to decide to accept this defense or not.

When first presented to the voters, the poorly written 1996 initiative was said to allow access to marijuana for terminally ill patients. What it actually said was that the initiative was for the decriminalization of marijuana use for the “seriously sick”. Over the years the term “seriously sick” was expanded to mean anything a doctor was willing to accept or the patient was willing to make up.

Posted by: Rohit at July 16, 2019 2:46 AM
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