In sixth grade I wrote a paper about why I thought marijuana should be legalized. Of course my angle was more about it’s possible use in the medical field. I was a strange 12 year old. My teacher didn’t like my first draft and asked me to change my topic. My new topic was “How to Cure Cancer.” I had high hopes. Eighteen years and a Doctorate later, I still believe that there are potential medical uses for marijuana. The keyword here is potential. Many life-saving drugs we use today come from or were discovered through plants, it’s an interesting science. Marijuana comes from the beautiful and rather complex flowering plant called Cannabis. The plant contains more than 421 chemicals, 61 of them being canabinoids. The canabinoids- primarily tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)- are psychoactive and responsible for the “high” felt with smoking or ingesting marijuana. Very low doses of THC is thought to help with nausea, vomiting, pain and cachexia in Cancer and AIDS patients. In fact there is a chemically modified version of this compound commercially available with a prescription called Marinol. I’ve dispensed many Marinol prescriptions during my pharmacy career thus far. I can guarantee that any terminal Cancer or AIDS patient treated with cannabis has received relief.
While I believe in the medical legalization of cannabis, I find the legalization of recreational cannabis frightening. Furthermore, regardless of intent of use, as a pharmacist, I am in absolute objection as to the way dispensing of the drug is being handled. While Colorado has legalized recreational marijuana just 8 days ago under Amendment 64, it is still against the law federally. Marijuana is a DEA schedule I drug. It is currently placed in the same class as heroin (yes-heroin!), LSD, ecstasy, peyote, and methaqualone. Schedule I drugs are substances with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. They are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence. Marijuana is addictive. Legalizing an addictive drug for recreational use is just a bad idea. Not to mention that there is no regulatory body governing the manufacture or distribution of the drug. One can argue that other substances that are harmful are legal, for example tobacco and alcohol. However, their distribution is regulated by the TTB. After doing some research, I found out that Amendment 64 requires the cannabis growers to have their products inspected by a lab for safety, purity, and THC concentration. However, these cannabis labs operate independently and are not backed by any other drug safety administration such as the FDA. Now I do have to say that obtaining marijuana from one of the legal Colorado “pot shops” is most likely safer than buying it off the street, but I fail to see how this is going to slow down abuse by anyone. Arguments are being made that because the legal age to purchase pot in Colorado is 21, abuse and obtainablity by teenagers is going to decrease. I say that’s a lie, and I’ll believe it when I see it (think about all of the underage alcohol abuse in the country). Legalizing something makes it more obtainable. More obtainability leads to more use. More use leads to more addicts. Another limitation to this new Colorado law is that a resident of the state can only purchase one ounce. Since there is no federal registrar like there is for Sudafed products (meth anyone?), people can theoretically go from pot shop to pot shop and purchase an ounce of marijuana. And another thing- since pot shop owners are restricted to how much pot they can grow, there is bound to be a shortage. What will this do for the medical marijuana patients that depend on it? Will there be any left for them?
People are flocking to Colorado to be part of history. Some pot lovers interviewed on the news even moved to Colorado from the east coast just because of Amendement 64. This law was passed at one of the most inopportune times possible. The job market is not doing too hot. Depression and drug addiction are at an all time high. Young americans are graduating from high school and college without jobs. It’s easy to turn to drugs, especially when they are easily accessible. Believe me, a few of these folks are friends of mine. I don’t foresee cannabis use going down. I see it going up, as well as the repercussions of using the drug. Frequent recreational use of marijuana can be detrimental to long term health mentally and in a way you probably haven’t thought. Psychogenic effects aside, smoking marijuana increases appetite (this is why it is used for cachexia). Not to stereotype, but marijuana users, and I’m talking about solely marijuana, tend to be rather sedentary. Marijuana use + sedentary lifestyle = overwieght, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc. This can lead to a whole other set of health problems, not to mention increased healthcare dollars spent.
I think that America isn’t ready for marijuana to be legalized. Furthermore, research needs to be done to explore the medical benefits and uses of the drug. Then, similar to Marinol, it should go through all of the regulatory channels to be a Schedule II drug to be dispensed by licensed pharmacists only. Yes, it will be more expensive, however it will be safer, most likely more efficacious, and purchasing/distribution can be tracked by the DEA.
I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Colorado legalized something that is still illegal Federally. Drug laws dictate that whichever law is more strict- state vs federal- is the law the state should abide by. Not to mention the marijuana is subjected to high Colorado state tax. This tax money is supposedly going to go to the Colorado school system. How can the state collect tax on a product that is not regulated by a government agency, not to mention illegal? I’m very interested to see how this plays out. Feel free to leave comments to keep the conversation going.
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