Why withhold marijuana from chronically ill?

Published 11:10 am Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Point of View by Joan Anderson

Should we legalize marijuana for medical purposes? Like so many questions in society, the answers are not clear. Here is how I have worked through the issue.

Joan Anderson

Joan Anderson

Let me make it clear from the outset that I am not intending to offer an argument for or against the legalization of marijuana in general. The sole question is whether society would be any better or worse off if the medical use of marijuana were legal.

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A large number of people find use of any drug, even for medical purposes, to be an addicting proposition. Perhaps legalizing marijuana for medical purposes would encourage healthy people to believe that there are no risks from marijuana and therefore recreational use is acceptable. Or, worse yet, it might serve as a gateway to the use of other, even more addictive drugs.

As taxpayers and as a society, we pay a huge cost because of problems such as absentee workers, families in distress, legal costs and medical care for people who have destroyed their bodies, such as courting liver disease or the breakdown of other organs. Might legalizing medical marijuana result in additional addicted people and commitment to expensive drug treatment programs?

Some might take the position that any step that makes illegal drugs more readily available, even for medical purposes, is just plain wrong and that we should just say no.

First we need to get a little perspective. Imagine the outcry if the public were offered a substance that can disrupt learning and impair memory, exacerbate mental illness, harm the brain development of a woman’s unborn child during pregnancy, impair drivers and thereby causing crashes that kill or injure innocent people, damages marriages and other relationships and is addicting. Of course, I am referring to alcohol, which has been
described as the most legal drug and also the most dangerous drug.

My points about alcohol are meant to show that, as a society, we have made the effort to balance the use of a drug with the perceived needs and desires of society.

Like marijuana, most prescribed painkillers are controlled substances. Members of my own family have had surgery after which they were prescribed oxycodone, a highly effective drug but one that can be subject to abuse. The nurse and the directions that came with the drug made it clear that the patient must not drive after taking it because, among other reasons, a person could be charged with driving under the influence of a controlled substance if there were an accident. My point is that prescribed controlled substances can be abused, but we do not bar their use.

There are specific medical conditions that seem to benefit from use of marijuana such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and some problems with seizures. There may be others. How does society
benefit from withholding relief of any sort from persons who are suffering? Not that long ago, doctors reportedly denied heavy doses of painkillers to terminally ill patients because of the fear they might become addicted. How does society gain?

I am fortunate because I have not been diagnosed with any of the conditions for which marijuana would alleviate pain and suffering. However, I am a person who tries to put herself into the shoes of someone suffering from a chronic condition.

If I had such an illness and marijuana would help me, I would want the doctor to prescribe it. If it would help ease chronic pain, revive lost appetite, slow vision loss from glaucoma, calm post-traumatic stress of combat veterans, stop spasms of muscular dystrophy and help with brain injuries more effectively than prescriptions for other controlled substances, why withhold it?


Albert Lea resident Joan Anderson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.