Georgia gets a medical marijuana green light
(RONALD FRASER) At long last, policymakers in Washington have begun to draw a line between illicit drug use and the legitimate use of drugs as medicine. In March, President Obama’s attorney general announced the federal government will no longer prosecute medical marijuana clinics that operate in compliance with state laws. This means lawmakers in Atlanta are now free to decide — without interference from Washington — if marijuana will fill a medical niche in Georgia.
Thirteen states have already removed criminal penalties for the use of medical marijuana and actively regulate how, with a medical doctor’s recommendation, marijuana is made available for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, severe pain, glaucoma, epilepsy and other chronic conditions. But until now, Washington has disregarded these state laws. Since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, for example, federal agents have raided over 100 marijuana distribution centers there.
WASHINGTON’S FIRST STEP.
The first step has been taken with Washington’s tacit acknowledgement that closing down state-regulated marijuana clinics is a misuse of taxpayers’ money and harmful to Americans coping with serious illnesses. Many thousands of ill people attest that smoking, vaporizing or orally ingesting marijuana relieves pain, nausea and other symptoms far more effectively than Marinol, a pharmaceutically available synthetic version of marijuana.
GEORGIA’S NEXT STEP?
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based advocate for legalizing medical marijuana, Georgia already has a limited medical marijuana law on the books. Under this statute, the state is authorized to distribute marijuana received from the federal government to a small number of patients taking part in research programs.
Washington’s new medical marijuana policy gives Georgia the freedom to exercise its historic roll as the primary watchdog for the health and welfare of its citizens. Whether or not Georgia patients will be given greater access to medical marijuana is now up to the state Legislature.
OTHER MEDICINAL DRUGS
Marijuana is not the only targeted medical drug. In all 50 states federal raids can still close down pain clinics and arrest pain management physicians who prescribe large doses of opioids, highly effective, legal painkillers made from opium or synthetics with the properties of opiate narcotics.
Dr. Joel Hochman, director of the National Foundation for the Treatment of Pain in Houston, Texas, says the drug-war hysteria is making it too risky for many doctors to accept patients in chronic pain and that, with help from the media, federal raids on so-called “pill mills” paint a false picture that the streets are awash in drugs carelessly handed out by unprincipled doctors. Instead, he claims, these clinics provide last-resort care to largely uninsured or under-insured blue-collar and other limited-income workers, many with work-related injuries, who can only afford a five-minute visit at high volume, low-cost, low-profit clinics.
What to do? “End opiophobia and fantasy-driven public policies,” says Hochman. “Confront the fact that law enforcement agencies and prisons are all strung out on the drug prohibition laws and need to be brought back to reality.”
Here is a rare opportunity for elected officials in Georgia and in Washington to take a long hard look at how harsh drug laws are undermining medical care in America. For the millions of people desperately coping with chronic ailments, let’s not waste it.
Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization. Write him at email@example.com.