Monday, November 14, 2005

Marijuana Should be Legalized

In 1998 Dr. William Notcutt began trying to medicalize cannabis in the form of a spray. GW Pharmaceuticals, at the James Paget Medical Center in England, has turned the plants into Sativex, a pure extract of pot that comes in a pharmacy-friendly bottle and is designed to be sprayed into the mouth. As far as we've been able to trace it back, cannabis has been used by humans for at least 4,500 years. There has never been a single documented overdose from any form of consumption of the plant. (It's actually not technically possible for a human being to die from smoking marijuana, as Eric Schlosser points out in his book, Reefer Madness: a user would have to smoke 100 pounds a minute for 15 minutes to take a fatal dose.) On the other hand, people can and do die from drinking too much, smoking too much crack, shooting up unexpectedly pure heroin, and snorting or popping too much OxyContin. Alcohol kills 50,000 people each year; tobacco kills 430,000 people each year. Marijuana has never killed anyone from an overdose in the history of mankind.

Marijuana's active components are potentially effective in treating pain, nausea, the anorexia of AIDS wasting, and other symptoms, and should be tested rigorously in clinical trials. With the development of Sativex hopefully this "medical" marijuana will enter the mainstream patient drug system and take away it's street drug status.

Fighting the Illegal Battle: The annual cost of marijuana criminalization came in at a shocking $5.1 billion in 2000. It is projected that replacing the current criminalization model with one of taxation and regulation (not unlike that used for alcohol), would produce combined savings and tax revenues of $10-14 billion per year. More than 500 economists (led by Nobel prize winner Milton Friedman) signed their names to an open letter to President Bush calling for "an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition that, would likely end up favoring a system where marijuana is legal but taxed and regulated like other goods." Miron, and the other 500 economists were not taking a stand for pot, but rather against criminalization.

One of the many criticisism of legalization is that marijuana is a "gateway" drug to bigger and badder drugs. There is no conclusive evidence that marijuana acts as a "gateway" drug.

Now let's take the recent (and controversial) case of Gonzales vs. Raich (previously known as Ashcroft vs. Raich). Dr. Frank Henry Lucido, had a violently ill patient, Raich, who was allergic to conventional medicine, and said that she will suffer imminent harm without access to cannabis. Indeed, Lucido claimed, "it could very well be fatal [for Raich] to forego cannabis treatments." To combat her terminal illness, Raich procured cannabis from a series of caregivers, which is legal under California law yet maddeningly illegal under a federal law called the Controlled Substances Act. As a result, the DEA raided her home in 2002 and destroyed all cannabis plants in her possession!

And now for a piece of cannabis trivia: Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson -- who were landowning farmers -- cultivated hemp as an important cash crop. In fact, Jefferson was known to prefer growing hemp to tobacco.