A weed by another name

The ongoing medical marijuana debate continues, and, like many other political arguments, it could benefit from a time-out for more reflection and research.

As a registered Independent voter, I cast a “no” vote on Prop 203 last year because I was uncomfortable with marijuana.

It is considered to be a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which the Drug Enforcement Administration defines as having “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and therefore may not be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use.”

The only experience I have with the substance is smelling its pungent odor near university residence halls.

There could be reason for voters and politicians to reconsider this issue because of the potential changes the regulated medical marijuana industry could create in our troubled economy and uneasy health care system. Medical marijuana might be worth political pursuit, but only if we hear more facts and set stereotypes aside.

Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director at Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in a recent column for The New York Times that the political climate currently is not open to the idea of “legal pot.”

“Over the past year, federal authorities appear to have done everything in their power to undermine state and local regulation of medical marijuana and to create uncertainty, fear and confusion among those in the industry,” he wrote.

He cited the Treasury Department forcing banks to close accounts of medical marijuana businesses operating legally under state law. The IRS is also requiring dispensary owners to pay taxes “required of no other businesses.”

Arizona has had its fair share of struggling with legalization. Dispensaries have been opened and shut down, and laws are constantly being challenged or stalled.

One of the major issues facing legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes lies in the plant’s longstanding subculture of recreational use.

For many, there is a disconnect between those who would like to try cannabis as a natural, gentler means of relief from debilitating diseases and conditions such as cancer, severe arthritis and PTSD and those who are looking for an easier way to get high.

It doesn’t help that the vocabulary and imagery of the subculture is applied to those who legitimately need it as medicine.

The “growing” puns that are the names of numerous dispensaries and other industry-related start-ups probably do not reassure anyone, let alone the government, that people are looking to cannabis for relief rather than pleasure.

Earlier this year, Mother Jones reported on a California start-up called WeGrow, a vertically integrated medical marijuana manufacturing facility. The nutrient products it uses for its plants are called “Bud Candy,” and its executives said they aspire to be “the Wal-Mart of Weed.”

Medical marijuana marketers must work on creating more credibility through a stronger ethos that proves it is separate from marijuana subculture. WeGrow has taken steps to ensure its seriousness to investors and regulators, according to Mother Jones, but harder facts are still missing.

Determining the disputed addictive qualities of THC, the active chemical in cannabis, must be researched in order for voters and politicians to trust the plant.

It takes almost no effort to obtain medical marijuana cards in California, the epicenter of the debate. It is right to criticize the lax regulations since it also contributes to a sense of abuse.

Medical marijuana can become a reality if there is a sense of control over the drug. Knowledge can combat the notion that medical marijuana is a back door to complete legalization.

 

Reach the columnist at jlgunthe@asu.edu

 

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