By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
RALEIGH — Should state lawmakers spend their time studying marijuana and should Tar Heel taxpayers foot the research bill? Joint Resolution 2405, introduced May 26 by Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford), would have the legislative research commission exploring the possibility of allowing this long-studied gateway drug to be used as medicine — a move many see as the first step toward legalizing all marijuana use.
“Studies have already been performed that clearly demonstrate there are other drugs available today that are equal in benefits and safer than the effects of medical marijuana,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
Proponents of medicinal use, many of whom converged on the Capitol earlier this month for the Global Marijuana Freedom March, claim the cannabinoid drug is effective for, among other things, pain relief, nausea control and appetite stimulation and can be used to treat everything from glaucoma to cancer. But for every claimed benefit, national studies show multiple negative effects.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, short-term problems include memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor skills, decrease in muscle strength, increased heart rate and anxiety. According to the national Institutes of Health, someone who smokes five joints a week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as a pack-a-day cigarette user. Further, studies show smoking marijuana, which is much more potent now than it was decades ago, weakens the immune system and raises the risk of lung infections, not to mention its potential for dependency. More teens are in treatment for marijuana use than for any other drug or for alcohol.
Contrary to claims made from the stage at the Raleigh rally that “zero deaths” have been attributed to marijuana, a 2005 study showed people who drive after using marijuana are almost twice as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash. Plus medical experts in the U.S. and beyond now say that hundreds of “accidental” deaths among young people each year are actually caused by prolonged marijuana use.
“Cannabis is as dangerous as any other drug and people must understand that it kills,” said Hamish Turner, president of Great Britain’s Coroners Society. “From my long experience I can say that it is a very dangerous substance. Increasingly it is mentioned not only as the first drug taken by people who overdose, but also in suicides and accidental deaths.”
Although marijuana proponents have won approval of medicinal use in a dozen states over the past 12 years, anyone who truly wants to know the effects of such a move should look no further than California, where Proposition 215 was the first statewide medical marijuana initiative to pass.
Despite the fact that the law was written to target “seriously ill” Californians, the state’s Police Chiefs Association reports that marijuana use by healthy youth and adults is “at epidemic levels.”
“One of the claims supporting passage of the ballot initiative was that marijuana would be used by cancer and glaucoma patients; by those persons with such horrible medical conditions that nothing but marijuana would give them relief. Experience shows that very few of those participating in medical marijuana fit this seriously, chronically ill category,” wrote Jerry P. Dyer, president of the Chiefs Association in an April 16, 2008 letter to Illinois authorities who had inquired about the issue. “Frequently officers contact parolees, probationers and gang members in possession of both marijuana and marijuana recommendations. Even more disturbing are children possessing physician recommendations and routinely using marijuana.”
Dyer’s letter went on to say that virtually anyone in California can obtain a physician’s recommendation to use marijuana.
“Unfortunately many of those engaged in marijuana use are unable to achieve educational goals or function in careers. They become chronically unemployed or underemployed and often engage in illicit drug sales or other criminal activity to fund their marijuana use,” Dyer wrote. “The effect on children and families has been and continues to be devastating.”
Rather than taking marijuana use out of the criminal arena, California’s medicinal use provision, which allows for personal growth and possession of marijuana or the use of a caregiver for that purpose, apparently rolled out the red carpet to drug cartels.
As the number of marijuana dispensaries opening throughout California has escalated (estimates are around 600), Dyer said they have become magnets for crime. According to Business Week, many of the retail outlets use coupons, newspaper advertising, and the Internet to attract customers. Some offer free grams for first-time visitors, discounts for people who have served in the armed forces, and $150 credits towards doctors’ visits. Some of the dispensaries in Los Angeles have even installed pot vending machines that are accessible 24 hours a day.
Marijuana costs very little to produce, but sells for about $5,000 per pound retail, a formula that promotes the involvement of organized crime.
“We’ve seen tremendous increases in both outdoor and indoor marijuana grow operations. These grows are rife with danger for individuals, the community and law enforcement,” Dyer wrote. “These large growing operations are being staffed and funded by organized drug cartels.”
What does the president of California’s police chiefs conclude? “Based on the almost 12 years of medical marijuana experience in the state of California it is our observation that it has been destructive to lives and communities. Passage of any form of medical marijuana anywhere in our nation is bad public policy and will cause crime and public safety problems.”
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug that poses significant health threats to users; has no medical value that can’t be met more effectively by legal drugs and more often than not, opens the door to even more harmful illegal substances. Studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show the risk of using cocaine has been estimated to be more than 104 times greater for those who have tried marijuana than for those who haven’t.
But perhaps one of the strongest arguments against North Carolina legislators beginning a study of marijuana is best expressed by Judy Kreamer, president of Educating Voices, a national organization founded to help people avoid the pitfalls of drug abuse.
“The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is the group that was long ago established to approve medicines. I see no reason to believe that state legislators are qualified to determine what is medicine,” Kreamer said.
In fact, the FDA reported two years ago that “no sound scientific studies” supported the medical use of marijuana. A review by federal drug enforcement, regulatory and research agencies concluded in April 2006 that “smoked marijuana has no currently accepted or proven medical use in the United States and is not an approved medical treatment.” The FDA has not changed its position.
What it has approved, as early as 1985, are safer dosage forms of cannabinoids, the medicines Marinol and Cesamet, both of which can be used to treat nausea associated with chemotherapy and anorexia associated with AIDS.
In their testimony before Congress FDA officials pointed out the dangers of marijuana proponents’ producing and using their own crop as medicine.
“Having access to a drug or medical treatment, without knowing how to use it or even if it is effective, does not benefit anyone. Simply having access, without having safety, efficacy, and adequate use information does not help patients” officials testified.
Nonetheless, federal bills opening the door to legal marijuana use continue to pop up, including HR 5842, a bill to provide for the medial use of marijuana in accordance with the laws of various states; and HR 5843, which would eliminate most federal penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use and for other purposes.
As for a proposed study of medicinal marijuana in North Carolina, a similar bill to the one offered by Jones was put forth by Durham’s Rep. Paul Luebke in 2003 and defeated in the state House.
Neither Jones nor the three other sponsors of the current resolution (Democrats Alice Bordsen, Walter G. Church and Pricey Harrison) answered questions about the issue e-mailed to them earlier this week by the Christian Action League.
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