Idaho, please understand: There’s California, then there’s 15 Medical Marijuana States

Click here for more coverage of IdahoMy father turns 70 this year.  He still lives in my birthplace, Nampa, Idaho.  He has some medical issues that include severe nerve damage to his feet and lower legs, leaving him with chronic neuropathic pain he treats with a regimen of many opioid painkillers.

Today he forwarded to me a local newspaper article about the push for a medical marijuana law in Idaho, which is abutted by four medical marijuana states – Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Montana.  Nampa’s news media, being in southwestern Idaho, focus primarily on Oregon’s medical marijuana system and, of course, the legendary excesses of California’s system.  Here are some of the comments that followed the article… this may give you some idea why “Radical” was a nickname that applied to my way of thinking while living there:

In state after state, city after city where medicinal marijuana has been legalized, adolescent use has also increased.

Not true.  Rise and fall of marijuana use does not seem to be affected by the laws allowing or preventing its use.  It’s true states with greater use rates have medical marijuana laws, but it’s because places with greater use are more supportive of liberalizing marijuana laws, not that liberalizing the law led to greater use.  Besides, according to 2009 data, Idaho had a higher monthly rate of marijuana use among 12-17-year-olds (7.44%) than did the medical marijuana states of Arizona (7.26%) and roughly the same as California (7.68%), Washington (7.73%) and Michigan (7.85%).

…marijuana use among our nation’s teens is at its highest rate in thirty years.

Not true.  In 1980, the US government’s Monitoring the Future Survey showed that 39.7% of 12th graders did not use marijuana in the past 30 days.  In 2010, that figure is 56.3%.  In 1980, 24.8% of 12th graders were smoking 40 or more times a month.  In 2010, that figure is 15%.  In other words, thirty years ago, before medical marijuana and during the “Just Say No” era, 3 out of 5 seniors were toking each month and 1 out of 4 was chiefing every day.  Now with medical marijuana and during the “Legalize It” era, less than half of seniors are toking each month and 2 out of 13 are chiefing every day.

But now comes New Jersey with a bill balancing control and compassion, a bill that could be the model for Idaho.

The New Jersey program, signed into law January 18, 2010 by outgoing Gov. Corzine, allows for the use of medical marijuana by people with less than 12 months to live.  Not a single patient has yet to get access to medical marijuana since then, because incoming Gov. Christie has blocked it every step of the way.  That means a lot of those terminally ill people died waiting for the will of the voters to be enacted.  Why would you model something that has yet to exist?

What medicine have voters ever voted for?

Well, during Prohibition, many alcohol users had prescriptions for it.  Then the legislatures of the states voted to repeal Prohibition.  Is that close?

This is what I call the “FDA Gambit”.  It’s the idea that nothing can be medicine unless the high priests of science in their white robes decree it is so, only after the sort of rigorous and deliberate testing that brought us FDA-approved Vioxx, phen-fen, and whatever other death-and-side-effects-laden pharmaceutical for which you’re seeing an ambulance-chasing lawyer’s class-action lawsuit informercial on late night TV.

Guess what?  Aspirin has never gone through that FDA process.  Yet no one reading this would deny its medical utility.  Nor have many other herbal and medical remedies, because they had so many hundreds or thousands of years of historically safe use, the people accepted them as medicines long before the high priests in the white robes showed up.

What medicine have citizens ever smoked?

Again, there is plenty of historical precedent for smoking cannabis as a medicine.  But broaden your understanding a bit.  Marijuana doesn’t have to be smoked; it can be eaten, vaporized, and used in tinctures and salves.  Even if it is smoked or vaporized, there are plenty of pharmaceutical drugs that are inhaled – ask any asthmatic.

What medicine have citizens grown in their backyard without any controls, dosage amounts, and safe delivery methods?

Uh… aloe vera, astragalus, bilberry, cayenne, chamomille, cloves, dandelion… here’s the whole list.

I am sure the law abiding, working tax payers do NOT support tax funded distribution of this highly addictive drug to the sick, lame and lazy that claim to have chronic pain.   Here is an example of the Impacts of the marijuana program in Oregon. In 1998 many Oregon voters approved the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program through a state ballot initiative and believed, because of misleading campaign ads that it was for a small percentage of people who were sick and dying. 12 years later, as of April 1 2011, there were over 40,000 marijuana cardholders. More than 35,793 (or 90%) of those cards had been issued for chronic pain and 35% of the cards were issued by one doctor, and an additional 59% by ten doctors.

This has to be the most oft-repeated scare tactic: 90% of Oregon’s medical marijuana patients are only using marijuana for so-called “severe pain”! (ASSUMPTION: They must be potheads faking it!)

FACT: Of Oregon’s 57,386 patients, it is true that 94.87% of patients indicate chronic pain as a qualifying condition. The catch? A patient can qualify and register under more than one condition. For example, 26.23% of patients register under “severe muscle spasms”, 14.25% register for “chronic nausea”, 3.64% register under “cancer”, and 2.46% register for “seizures”, and 1.29% register for “HIV/AIDS”. That’s 128.49%, isn’t it? Now, do you think something like Multiple Sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, brain cancer, epilepsy, and AIDS wasting syndrome just might cause a little bit of severe pain?

So, do the math… if every patient who qualifies under a non-pain condition also suffers from pain, then the baseline number of patients who could be getting medical marijuana for pain only decreases to 24,932, or just 43.45% of the patients. It could be more than that, as not every glaucoma sufferer, for instance, is going to indicate pain. So let’s say 15% of the non-pain patients don’t also register under pain… that still leaves us with just 50% of patients using marijuana to treat pain.

Here’s the irony: there is far more scientific medical literature backing up the use of marijuana for pain than any other condition people are using it for in Oregon. Especially neuropathic pain, which is shown to be very difficult to treat with conventional analgesics like opioid painkillers. Furthermore, studies have shown that patients using Oxycontin, Vicodin, Demerol, Flexaril, Percocet, and many other toxic, addictive, side-effect-laden, mind-altering opioids are able to reduce their dosages from one-third to one-half and a lucky few can even replace opioids entirely with marijuana.

Idaho needs to understand that there’s California, and then there are fifteen other medical marijuana states. Nowhere but California can one walk into a doctor’s office, complain of a backache, headache, insomnia, anxiety, or thick-wallet syndrome and walk out with a doctor’s permission slip to smoke weed. In every other state, including Oregon, the process is very tightly controlled.

First, you have to qualify under one of the very limited conditions listed – there is no anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, and other vague maladies listed. Second, even for severe pain, you must have visited a regular doctor within the past three years. You have to have chart notes from at least three visits documenting that pain. Third, upon receiving that doctor’s recommendation (except in Washington), you must fill out paperwork with the state where you give them your name and address, tell them where you’ll grow marijuana (if allowed, which Idaho’s bill wouldn’t), agree to abide by absurdly small limits, never smoke it in public view, and pay the state a fee (in Oregon, it’s $200).

So let’s just assume some pothead really did want to go to the trouble of seeing a doctor three times, collecting his medical records, seeing another doctor for the marijuana recommendation, filling out some state paperwork, and paying the state so he can smoke weed in peace without threat of arrest. This is the “abuse” critics of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program imply. Where you once had a pothead who smoked weed, we don’t know who he is, where he is, and he’s contributing nothing to the economy or the state… we now have a guy who tells us where he is, agrees to small limits, tells you where he’s growing, keeps clinic workers and doctors in jobs, and contributes $200 annually to the state in registration fees. This “abuse” was so rampant that the Oregon Legislature appropriated a million dollars of that “abuse” money in 2007 and once again used medmj program surpluses in 2011 to balance state budgets in other areas, like funding the Clean Drinking Water Program.

Regardless, one of the lynchpins in this “abuse” meme is the notion that Oregon’s medmj supporters “fooled” voters by saying it would only apply to 500 cancer and AIDS patients, and that now there’s 57,000 patients, so it must be “abuse”! It’s a flat-out lie: Stormy Ray, the quadriplegic proponent of Measure 67 back in 1998, was quoted in the official ballot text saying it “would help thousands of people”. It also begs the question: when you have a medicine that treats people’s pain effectively, how many users is too many?

According to a survey by the American Osteopathic Association, “Nearly 70 percent of Americans say that they or someone they care for experienced pain in the previous 30 days.”  They found that almost half believed no treatment would help their pain.  A third are afraid of becoming addicted, believe the side effects of pain killers are worse than the pain itself, and don’t think they could afford their pain killers anyway.

So, how many people using cheap, effective, non-toxic, non-addictive medicine whose worst side effects are dry mouth, red eyes, and the munchies to treat their pain is too many?

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