The fight to reverse Michigan’s ban on medicinal marijuana is understandable given that the drug has been used as such for thousands of years. Eleven states have already legalized its use for the treatment of serious medical conditions – and with good reason.

Sarah Royce

It is widely accepted that marijuana may prevent blindness in glaucoma patients and can ease appetite loss among patients suffering from AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy. It is also a cheap, safe and risk-free painkiller. The state and federal governments need to recognize what many already do – medicinal marijuana can be a legitimate alternative to more addictive and risky drugs.

It is disappointing that a recent bill proposing to legalize the use of marijuana in Michigan by those with debilitating medical conditions failed in a state House committee. Despite its lack of mainstream acceptance, there is no reason to criminalize marijuana use for chronically ill patients seeking pain. How can the state government callously deny it to elderly cancer patients? How can the state deny patients a drug that can lessen the effects of chemotherapy and diminish the violent nausea that some pills can induce? Marijuana is hardly different from the vast number of legally prescribed drugs, like morphine and Vicodin, that are routinely abused. It is time for our state government to look past the stigma surrounding marijuana and recognize its possibilities.

The Food and Drug Administration argues that there is no sound evidence to support the safety and effectiveness of medicinal marijuana. But the lack of scientific studies is the fault of strict federal guidelines that force researchers to jump through years of hurdles to obtain a small amount of marijuana from the one legal marijuana farm in the country for research. And it’s not even good marijuana – a 2005 New York Times guest editorial piece described it as “notoriously weak and poorly manicured.”

It is no surprise that conducting research is so hard. A victory for medicinal marijuana would look like a loss for the federal government’s misguided war on drugs. And more important, it would deal a blow to the pharmaceutical companies that are no doubt pressuring the federal and state governments against legalization. But don’t be misled. These drug companies aren’t taking the moral high ground; they’re responding to a real fear that if medicinal marijuana is legalized, their profit margins could fall as patiens and doctors flock to the cheaper and safer alternative.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that Congress can supersede state governments to enforce the federal ban on marijuana. However, legalizing medicinal marijuana on the state level will undoubtedly lower the priority placed on medicinal marijuana by local law enforcement and legitimize its use as a medical treatment for the sick. In addition, as more states legalize the medicinal use of marijuana, the federal government would be forced to review its position – and maybe even more generally its costly and counterproductive war on drugs. Come January, the state Legislature should re-examine this issue and lift the ban.

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