2011-12-08 / Commentary

Feds should OK medical marijuana

OTHER VOICES

A formal federal recognition of marijuana as a prescription drug is the logical approach to the medical marijuana debate.

The current state- by- state approach that challenges federal drug laws only invites confusion for doctors, patients, dispensaries and law enforcement agencies.

The question of whether to permit medical uses of marijuana must be kept separate from the decriminalization debate. There is a vast difference between allowing the use of a substance to treat an illness or its symptoms, and lifting all restrictions on the drug.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is on the right tack joining efforts by governors of other states to push the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency to make it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana for medicinal use.

There is a strong argument for legalizing marijuana if the drug has legitimate medical use — even if only to relieve a patient’s suffering — that outweighs the harmful side effects.

Recognizing marijuana as a prescription medication also means it must be subject to the same testing and oversight as other medication.

In July, a Vermont law went into effect allowing four medical marijuana dispensaries. Since 2004, the state has allowed some patients suffering from specific chronic and debilitating conditions to register with the Department of Public Safety and grow limited quantities of marijuana.

The Vermont law — even with the most compassionate intent — flies in the face of the federal prohibition on marijuana.

Federal prosecutors have cracked down on dispensaries in California — allowed by state law — saying many of them serve as cover for drug dealers.

Doctors regularly prescribe a range of medication — including opiates — that could be harmful if used for other than their intended purposes.

There’s also no shortage of crimes linked to the abuse of legal prescription drugs, some with the potential to cause far more harm than marijuana.

The decision of whether to treat marijuana like other prescription medication should be based on medical evidence, rather than the drug’s history as an illegal substance.

The current policy only puts those who can benefit from medical marijuana in the middle of the conflict between state and federal laws.

The only sensible solution is a federal policy that makes room for the legitimate medical use of marijuana.

— The Burlington (Vt.)

Free Press

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