Medical cannabis heads toward the tipping point

Leland Rucker

Weed, the CNN documentary anchored by Dr. Sanjay Gupta that aired last summer, highlighted the case of Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl whose epileptic seizures were calmed by use of a special strain of cannabis high in cannabidiol, or CBD, a cannabinoid associated with the plant’s medical properties.

Television is a powerful medium, and the documentary showed the anguish and ultimate relief of the parents, who OKed the use of the cannabis oil only after exhausting all other possibilities. Millions watched as Charlotte, after being given a specially grown and manufactured tincture of cannabis oil, went from having hundreds of seizures a day to just a few.

Gupta followed that special last month with Weed 2, which documents children with similar epileptic disorders and the problems their parents face in trying to obtain and use the special strain grown for Charlotte. At least one family has relocated to the state because of the difficulties associated with differences in state and federal laws that don’t allow them to get the medicine they hope will work for their daughter.

Lawmakers have stepped up — sort of. Utah recently passed House Bill 105, a restrictive law that, beginning July 1, allows families that meet certain guidelines to obtain the “Charlotte’s Web” extract from other states. A similar bill has passed the Kentucky House and is being considered in the Senate. Pennsylvania legislators are proposing a medical exception for patients with similar conditions, and Alabama’s governor has indicated that he will sign a bill already passed by the legislature that gives a million dollars to the state university for CBD research.

The problem, as NORML’s Paul Armentano argues, is that these measures are doomed to failure by their very nature. Just for starters, you have to be a resident of Colorado and a registered medical patient to purchase the extract, so outside residents won’t be able to get it here. Who knows how long it will take for the University of Alabama to get cannabis, which must be approved by several federal agencies, to do its research. The restrictions almost make it sound like lawmakers are more fearful that somebody might get high on medicine than they are invested in actually helping children.

As we head toward the fall elections, expect cannabis to be a hot topic of discussion in many districts. Twentyone states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington and the District of Columbia — now allow medical cannabis of some kind. In a recent poll, an astounding 82 percent of Floridians said they would vote for medical cannabis. Even noted conservative and presidential contender Gov. Rick Perry is pushing for medical cannabis in Texas.

Just in the last few months, four states have approved studies of cannabis in helping treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Maine, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon added PTSD as a qualifying medical condition in their state medical marijuana programs, a positive step in perhaps finding treatment for our veterans.

One of the major prohibitionist arguments against cannabis is the fear, long embedded in American lore, that it will lead to an increase in street crime. A study published last month from the University of Texas that is long on statistics and short on hyperbole pretty much puts that one to rest.

The authors analyzed the association between state medical cannabis laws and state crime rates for all Part I offenses (i.e., homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/ theft, motor vehicle theft and arson) collected by the FBI. They found that medical cannabis states “did not indicate a crime-exacerbating effect of MML on any of the Part I offenses.”

“We’re cautious about saying, ‘Medical marijuana laws definitely reduce homicide.’ That’s not what we’re saying,” Dallas criminology professor and researcher Robert Morris told the University of Texas’s daily news service. “The main finding is that we found no increase in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization. In fact, we found some evidence of decreasing rates of some types of violent crime, namely homicide and assault.”

As the misinformation it’s based upon crumbles, prohibition is falling fast. As Gupta pointed out in his first Weed special, the government has used misinformation and outright lies instead of science upon which to base its cannabis laws. If polls are anywhere close to correct, far more people who don’t identify as Democrats — and far more than just cannabis users — are voting to change that.

So when will Congress reach the tipping point? There are a small number of U.S. representatives, Colorado’s Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter among them, trying to prod along various pieces of legislation. More and more congresspeople are becoming aware of their constituents’ ire at the excesses of the drug war, Congress still seems as unwilling to take up the topic of medical cannabis as it is with changing federal banking laws to accommodate businesses in states with medical programs.

Perhaps incumbents feel secure, but anyone running for office from now on who ignores the fact that nearly 60 percent of Americans support medical cannabis and/or outright legalization and decides to buck that tide, deserves to lose.

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