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On Medical Marijuana

Posted Dec 10 2008 10:50am

Over the years I have read a lot about the pros and cons of medical marijuana, and from time-to-time there is a piece on the news about it, usually profiling somebody who is in trouble with the law. The debate continues.

Marijuana is so common. It grows everywhere. During my days as a sports writer, I recall Hall of Fame baseball player Robin Yount’s hilarious story about marijuana plants growing in the outfield of the old Comiskey Park in Chicago, after the ill-fated “Anti Disco Night” fiasco between games of a double header. Fans got crazy when they lit a disco record bon fire in center field. They stormed the field and tore up the grass. The situation turned from silly to completely out of control in a matter of moments and it got so bad that the umpires ruled the field “unplayable,” forcing the White Sox to forfeit the second game. Robin said the Brewers were the next team in after the event and these “tiny little pot plants” were growing in the outfield grass.

People have been growing their own marijuana for years, or selling marijuana to earn extra money. It’s against the law, but most people sort of look the other way and don’t really care about it. They read about, or see a story about a person who is using marijuana to control pain, or for some other “medical” purpose and they think to themselves, “That’s not so bad, why don’t they leave him alone.”

I have a problem with “medical marijuana” for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the medical or limited use of marijuana is just the tip of the iceberg, because the exceptions to the rule quickly expand. What starts out as a controlled activity ends up as either pseudo legalization, or a kind of tacit consent.

Laws concerning medical marijuana are a veil. Secondly, and more importantly, if marijuana can be grown so easily, and is so common, how can a physician prescribe marijuana with any sense that the drug will be used according to the prescription? Other drug groups such as opiates and barbiturates have strict controls, but even with those controls, the abuse is rampant. Any notion of controlling marijuana is a joke.

The fact that so many people view marijuana as harmless is bothersome. “Well, at least he isn’t drinking alcohol,” says a mother of her teenager’s marijuana use. Teenagers like to stretch their limits and test the boundaries of parental control. It’s an invitation for trouble because “limited use” turns into “unlimited use.”

The American medical network writes, “As with abuse of cocaine, opioids, and alcohol, chronic marijuana abusers may lose interest in common socially desirable goals and steadily devote more time to drug acquisition and use. However, THC does not cause a specific and unique ‘a-motivational syndrome.’ The range of symptoms sometimes attributed to marijuana use is difficult to distinguish from mild to moderate depression and the maturational dysfunctions often associated with protracted adolescence.

Chronic marijuana use has also been reported to increase the risk of psychotic symptoms in individuals with a past history of schizophrenia. Persons who initiate marijuana smoking before the age of 17 may subsequently develop severe cognitive and neuropsychological disorders, and may be at higher risk for later poly-drug and alcohol abuse problems.”

It’s a slippery slope we try to stand on when we take anything illegal and try to “pretty it up” to look legitimate. Are there legal and effective ways of helping chemotherapy patients deal with the side effects of their treatments? If chronic pain is an issue, is there no other way than marijuana for that condition? There are excellent arguments on both sides. I invite you to look at the postings on ProCon.org. There’s a lot there to read and ponder.

In closing, my objections, bottom line, are more on a moral level than a legal level. I view the legal level as a “Pandora’s box” and like so many other issues, you can get tangled up in the details and lose sight of the purpose. As for the moral objection, it is much more clearly defined for me. Marijuana is a dangerous drug from a moral perspective, because it represents the beginning of a long succession to a bad ending.

Ned Wicker is Addictions Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center.

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