Distortion, misinformation cloud issue

Staff Writer
Washington Times-Reporter

On March 26, the Washington Times-Reporter reported on local officials’ views on legislation pending in Springfield to permit seriously ill patients to legally use medical marijuana if their doctor recommends it. 

Sadly, the article illustrated the misinformation and distortions that cloud the medical marijuana debate.

Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria), said, “I’m concerned about blurring the line between medicinal use and recreational use. ... We don’t need more drug problems.”

He can rest easy. The proposed legislation draws a bright, clear line between medical and non-medical use. To qualify for the program, patients must be diagnosed with one of a specified list of serious medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. They will need to get a written recommendation from their physician and file it with the state department of public health, which will issue an ID card that must be renewed each year.

And, if persons in the program break the law — say, by selling marijuana to non-patients — the criminal penalties will be enhanced, making them more severe than would normally apply to the same offense.

The experience of the 12 states that have medical marijuana laws shows they do not increase drug problems. Rates of marijuana use for both adults and teens have generally declined in these states since their medical marijuana laws went into effect. Even in California, whose loosely written law offers more leeway for abuse than the other 11 statutes, teen marijuana use has plunged since the medical marijuana law was enacted — by nearly half in some age groups.

Sen. Dale Risinger (R-Peoria) and East Peoria police chief Ed Papis emphasize the need for control and access only under a doctor’s care, with Papis claiming the bill is “a subterfuge to legalize marijuana.”

The legislation, modeled after tightly written laws in states like Rhode Island and Montana, already restricts medical use of marijuana to patients with specific conditions and their doctors’ written recommendation. As for the notion that this is some sort of secret plot to legalize marijuana for all, let’s review some basic facts:

No state with a medical marijuana law has legalized marijuana for non-medical use, and there is no reason to think they would. After all, cocaine, morphine and even methamphetamine have been legal for medical use for decades, and no one seriously suggests that this is a step toward legalizing these drugs as playthings.

Supporters of legal protection for medical marijuana patients include the 124,000-member American College of Physicians (doctors of internal medicine, including cancer and infectious disease specialists), Illinois Nurses Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the American Academy of HIV Medicine, among others — many of the leading medical and public health organizations in the U.S. This is a sinister cabal of drug legalizers?

In every state that has adopted a medical marijuana law, these exact same fears have been raised, and none of them has ever proven true anywhere. That’s why public opinion polling in these 12 states has consistently shown medical marijuana laws maintaining their popularity or even gaining support. And that’s why legislators around the country — most recently in Rhode Island and New Mexico — have been increasingly willing to pass medical marijuana laws.

The Rhode Island experience is noteworthy. Legislators passed the law in 2006 with a one-year sunset clause. This required the legislature to reconsider the law a year later, giving representatives a convenient way out should problems arise.

The result? In June 2007, Rhode Island legislators voted to make the law permanent, by an even greater margin than they had passed it by originally — bipartisan majorities of greater than four to one in both legislative houses.

It’s time to get past the fear and misinformation. Medical marijuana laws work. They protect the sickest and most vulnerable among us, and they don’t lead to increased drug abuse. There is just no good reason to arrest and jail patients fighting for their lives and dignity against horrible diseases like cancer and MS simply for using a medicine recommended by their doctor.