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Marijuana laws up in smoke?

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The Justice Department had better be careful about its new lax enforcement policy for medical marijuana. The department has issued a new policy barring states attorneys from busting and prosecuting users and caregivers of so-called “medical” marijuana who act “in accordance with state law.”

Here’s what might actually happen: “Prescription marijuana” use may explode for healthy people.

Unfortunately, as many as 90 percent of purchases at clinical distribution centers are “false defenses,” some law enforcement agents report – which means individuals are not really sick but simply want the pot.

Many medical experts also believe that “medical” marijuana is not as effective as other healing mechanisms for many illnesses such as glaucoma, pain, or nausea for which users try it. The false hype leads to false hope. Just as laetrile was legalized in the 1970s in 27 states to cure cancer but was found to be useless apricot pits, causing the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to decry then in a Senate hearing the “false hope” delaying true treatment, “medical” marijuana today could be a placebo delaying far better treatments.

Medical marijuana advocates press its use for painkilling and appetite enhancement, but you might feel just as good after a shot of gin, and certainly your pain is gone with appropriate morphine or other properly tested and applied drugs. Science, not politics, must drive what is determined to be safe and effective medicine in America.

The medical marijuana advocates never mention the potentially better applications of THC in marijuana from suppositories, jells, aerosols or the already approved pill Marinol – they just want the high from the smoked version. After all the years of discussion, of course, science has not found that hot, smoked carcinogens in a patient’s lung is the best medicine.

There is a real danger that if marijuana is made essentially a prescription drug, its abuse and usage explosion could parallel other prescription drugs over the last decade, such as OxyContin, which have tripled nationally and quintupled in many locations because of the ease of availability. OxyContin has become the “new heroin,” and now marijuana could take its place.

Marijuana is not a safe drug – not only has the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that it causes dependency, but it is the second leading drug involved in car crashes, surpassed only by alcohol. The Maryland Shock Trauma Unit a few years back even found a higher rate – 34 percent – of patients tested positive for marijuana than alcohol (33 percent).

No one wants to deny a dying cancer patient a hit of grass, if that’s what he or she wants. But to announce and implement a policy of broad-brush nonenforcement when usage of medical marijuana and its distribution are so loosely controlled is a dangerous policy.

The new policy, a three-page Justice Department memo anyone can download, does not only say leave the users alone. It also says leave the “caregivers” alone if they comply with state law.

The distribution centers, which are suppliers, and the staff could well be “caregivers” who would be given the same freedoms as the patients. Because of the known voluminous fraudulent illness claims, these suppliers and staff may well in fact be just plain dealers. The Justice Department would have serious problems discerning between illicit dealers and distributors to and at clinics.

The advocates of medical marijuana say drug policy has been a failure, but the numbers say quite the reverse. While more treatment must be provided, the numbers of regular drug abusers in America has been cut sharply by almost half – from 14 percent to 8 percent – since the peak of the 1970s. Cocaine use has been cut by 70 percent. Those are real numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services.

If any other social problem such as literacy, hunger, or lack of health insurance, were cut by 40 percent or 70 percent, would we say it’s a failure? Of course not. The American team effort to reduce drug abuse, including education, prevention, treatment, community coalitions, media, law enforcement, and foreign policy, actually works, and we must continue it, with improvements.

Robert Weiner was White House Drug Policy Office spokesman for more than six years and communications director of the House Select Narcotics Committee for five years.

The Washington Times, LLC

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