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Medical Marijuana: No Panacea

Over the last few days Sanjay Gupta has announced he has changed his mind on marijuana.

Dr. Gupta, for the uninformed, is CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent.  Here is what he said:

I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.

Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

Ah.

Dr. Gupta believed the government without seeing the evidence first?  Well that was his first mistake.

But it’s not an uncommon one.  Many people believe the government “because they wouldn’t do things without a good reason”, so it goes.

But what is the “good reason”?  Is it based on science or is it based on political considerations?  We know for a fact that the original push to criminalize pot had exactly nothing to do with science (the claims that were made — that it turned Hispanic men into wild rapists and made white women unable to resist their advances, as just two of the claims) had exactly nothing to do with science.

But it did have a lot to do with protecting the Hearst newspaper empire.

It will be very hard for the administration — this one or any future one — to dismiss Dr. Gupta.  And he’s not the only one that will be hard to dismiss.  The fact of the matter is that marijuana, like all drugs, can be abused.  But booze in all of its forms, along with tobacco, are far more harmful than marijuana on a scientific basis, yet those two are sold in stores.

Why?  To a large degree because we tried to ban booze and while drinking did decline crime rose precipitously and the trade-off simply wasn’t worth it — never mind that the government wanted the tax revenue back.

One thing to be aware of, however, is that under current law while in some states you can (theoretically, under state law) have your medical pot doing so is an automatic disqualifier for firearms ownership.  Read your friendly neighborhood 4473 — if you are addicted to any drug (alcohol is classified as a depressant, incidentally) you’re debarred ownership of firearms.

The Gordian Knot that constitutes our drug law mess is not likely to be made less troublesome by this development — rather, it is likely to be made more of a problem. Don’t believe for a second that Eric (Place) Holder’s expected “announcement” that he wants sentencing changes for non-violent drug offenses means that the damage done from current drug policy will abate.  It will not until and unless the felony convictions that come from these events go away — not just the long prison sentences.

The simple fact of the matter is that felony sanction should be, in a reasonable society, reserved for those who harm others.  Whether that harm is physical and violent or financial and ruinous, that should be the barrier that must be crossed before we apply such a sanction, because felony criminal convictions are permanent impairments that remain with you for life and will remain so until and unless they are routinely expunged upon completion of one’s sentence (including any term of  probation that may have been imposed.)

We should consider doing both as a matter of statute, incidentally, with one exception — one’s “priors” should be accessible and usable for determination of sentence for subsequent offenses.

But that won’t be happening today, tomorrow, or any time soon — and as such I wouldn’t be jumping up and down over Dr. Gupta’s declaration.

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