Few issues are as controversial and yet urgent at the same time as the issue of legalizing medical marijuana. As always, the opponents use their favorite weapon - fear, while many supporters are simply uncomfortable for one reason or another to actively come forward and voice their opinion. It just so happens that when it comes to this explosive issue, I am a doctor, a patient, and an advocate all at the same time, the third role naturally emerging from, but actually transcending, the first two. One thing to remember, though, is that very rarely in human history the progressive movements (for patients' rights, such as ours), or for women rights, or for voting and civil rights, or for gay rights, or for reproductive freedom, or for stem cell research) were politically popular with the "powers that be" at least initially. It is only decades later that most people are able to appreciate the "fruits" of these movements and be incredulous that there actually was a time when those things had to be fought for, and fought for hard.
Let me first briefly meet the criticisms leveled by the opponents, as they cite these reasons as "overriding" even if they are forced to admit that marijuana, after all, does have significant and wide-ranging medicinal properties.
The first and most widely used objection is the "addiction potential" of marijuana. As an Addiction Medicine specialist, I can safely pass a judgment that this objection greatly exaggerates the facts. Marijuana's addiction liability, that is, its ability to induce what is referred to as "problem use" is only 3%, as opposed to 10% for alcohol, 50 to 75% for nicotine, and about 20% for opiates, such as morphine, widely used for painful conditions. Let me bring this point "home" even stronger, and mention the scientific fact that one of the worst drugs of abuse, heroin, is metabolized in the human body to... morphine! Yet, no one in the right mind would suggest making morphine illegal just because it happens to be a metabolite of heroin and, therefore, "the first step towards legalization of drugs".
Another objection to medical marijuana used by our opponents is marijuana's "side effects". Let's start meeting this objection with the known fact that marijuana, as opposed to absolute majority of other medications, including over-the-counter remedies such as aspirin or Tylenol, does not have a lethal dose. There has not been one single case of fatal marijuana poisoning! I believe this is a very significant factor when the objection that the "drug is not safe" is brought forth. And have I mentioned a total absence of documented physical withdrawal upon discontinuation of use?
Our opponents love to parade the so-called "gateway" drug hypothesis even if they do admit that marijuana in itself is not "very addictive". I recall attending an Addiction Medicine conference several years ago, when I asked the presenter on the topic of marijuana, who was, by the way, very critical of the so-called "gateway" theory, why was it that in the Netherlands where marijuana is all but decriminalized, the heroin abuse rate was the lowest in Europe. You know what he said to me? "This question", he said, "needs to be addressed with the politicians, and not with me". The so-called "gateway" hypothesis is by now completely discredited by science, as any mind-altering substance may serve the "purpose" of being the "gateway", not just nicotine and alcohol, but all the way down to caffeine and sugar. To avoid all the potential "gateway" substances we would need to live in a glass bubble and not consume hardly anything.
There is another "big one" that the opponents of medical marijuana count among their "arsenal". They claim that medical marijuana may lead to the rise in crime rate. Here is the direct quote from the prestigious Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, 4-th Edition, page 267:
"Only the unsophisticated continue to believe that cannabis leads to violence and crime. Indeed, instead of inciting criminal behavior, cannabis may tend to suppress it".
How about THIS! This is not some "stoned" teenager making a self-serving statement. This quote is from a Textbook published by none other than American Association of Addiction Psychiatry! Are the lawmakers who are our opponents going to claim that they are "right" and the science of Addiction Psychiatry is "wrong"? Maybe so, but then they will appear unsophisticated... Now, I hold an opinion, no doubt still "heretical" in orthodox scientific circles that just as it is now being shown that marijuana use may actually suppress violent crime, it will be shown in the future to be rather a "barrier" than the "gateway" to hard drug use, which may explain, incidentally, why the Netherlands have the lowest rate of heroin use in Europe.
What we have to admit in the end is that medical marijuana is safe with regard to accidental overdose, has no physical withdrawal, is not terribly addictive, does not lead to increased crime, and could not be a "gateway" more than a multitude of other substances. I believe that our opponents are also losing an important philosophical argument. If the proposition that is our proposition that marijuana does have significant medicinal properties has been proven true in even one instance, then subsequent philosophical "burden of proof" shifts to our opponents who now must discredit our further saying that medical marijuana is effective in ALL conditions for which effectiveness by patients is claimed.
While our opponents are on very shaky grounds with all their objections, medical professionals and patients claim quite remarkable medicinal properties of this herb. Malnutrition, chemotherapy-induced nausea, arthritis, glaucoma, muscle spasms, intractable pain, mood swings... The list can go on and on... And it would be helpful to contemplate how much money medical marijuana would save for the health care system because of its low cost and high effectiveness in a variety of conditions! Queen Victoria herself used cannabis for "menstrual cramps". Imagine that! Public support is also growing with 81% of Americans now in favor of medical marijuana legalization:
I have to admit that as a severe arthritis and glaucoma patient (glaucoma being of the same kind as the one that took my father's vision more than 15 years ago), I have a personal interest in campaigning for this legislation. I urge everyone to give this issue a very serious thought, with either yourselves or your loved ones as potential beneficiaries of this amazing medicinal herb that has been actually used by humanity since very ancient times indeed...