Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Medical Marijuana Advocacy Project

Medical marijuana is controversial issue to many individuals as a result of several complications. One problem about the controversies of medical marijuana is the lack of education and understanding regarding its use as a medicinal option. Another issue is the stigma that it currently has as a result of cultural beliefs, misinformation, and the consequences of geographic isolation. According to procon.org there are currently fourteen medical marijuana states in the United States of America as of January 26, 2010. These states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. There are some states like Arizona and Maryland that have favored medical marijuana, but the big picture is the contradictions between state laws and federal laws. According to Marijuana Medicine & the Law Volume II by R.C. Randall despite the fact that the Drug Enforcement Administration's own administrative law judge Francis Young attempted to change the stance on medical marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II, medical marijuana still remains a schedule II substance in 2010. A schedule I controlled substance like medical marijuana is paired with drugs like mescaline, heroin and other Schedule I drugs that the Drug Enforcement Administration does not consider the substances of having medicinal benefits. As a result each of the Schedule I controlled substances are given penalties in the form of a felony by federal law. While medical marijuana does not have medical benefits and is considered a felony by Federal law, Schedule II drugs that do have medical benefits include cocaine, methamphetamine, morphine, several opium substances, and more. According to the documentary The Union: The Business Behind getting High, directed by Brett Harvey and produced by Adam Scorgie, the Drug Enforcement Administration's Law Judge Fracis Young stated, "Marijuana in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man, however despite this the Drug Enforcement Administration overruled Francis Young's decision to reclassify medical marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II controlled substance. There are however synthetic THC capsules that are meant to mimic the effects of medical marijuana and are approved by pharmaceuticals. This drug is called Marinol and is a schedule III controlled substance according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. THC is one of the main ingredients in marijuana that gives its patients psychoactive effects. As explained in The Union: The Business Behind Getting High pharmaceutical companies can not make money off natural forms of medicine which is why the smoked use of medical marijuana is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result of smoked medical marijuana being a natural form of medicine pharmaceutical companies could not patent medical marijuana in its natural form. video

As a result of the Drug Enforcement Administration's unwilling decision to reclassify medical marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance patients like Greg Cooper who suffers from multiple sclerosis and ataxia risk prosecution by federal law even though his state's law may accept medical marijuana as a medicinal option. As seen in the independent Showtime film in, Pot We Trust directed by Star Spice, Stock Broker Irvine Rosenfeld explained how ironically there is a federal medical marijuana program and he receives his medicine in pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes every 25 days directly from the federal government. As a result of being in the official medical marijuana federal government ran program Mr. Rosenfeld does not risk being prosecuted by the federal government even though federal law does not consider medical marijuana as a medicinal option. Mr. Rosenfeld was diagnosed with a congenital disease. Medical Marijuana helps Mr. Rosenfeld's condition by relaxing his muscles so that they do not tear. Mr. Rosenfeld became the second person ever to receive medical marijuana directly from the federal government as a result of this program. Mr. Rosenfeld explained how George Bush Sr. closed the federal program down, but grandfathered the existing medical marijuana patients of the official Federal medical marijuana program in an effort to protect the federal government from a lawsuit.

It is evident that there needs to be more progression in the rescheduling of medical marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II controlled substance with attempts made by numerous medical organizations including The New England Journal of Medicine. Is the federal government's unwillingness to reschedule medical marijuana result of a cultural stigma? Oftentimes when one thinks of the word marijuana images of a hippie with long hair who is unshaven wearing Tye dye shirts are depicted. This stigma needs to be changed in order for the opposition to accept it. Individuals like actor and comedian Tommy Chong who was arrested by federal agents in Operation Pipe Dreams lead by former Drug Enforcement Administration head Karen Tandy have been targeted as a result of their involvement in the marijuana culture. Tommy Chong explained in The Union: The Business Behind Getting High that he was arrested for shipping paraphernalia to one of two states that criminally punish for this offense. Those two states are Pennsylvania and Iowa. Mr. Chong explained how it was not his company though he let the company use his name for the family business. In Karen Tandy's official statement of the raid it was written that Tommy Chong should be sent to jail because his popular films have been influencing children for over thirty years.

Then Karen Tandy set her focus on a Canadian Citizen who never entered the United States of America. She targeted cannabis activist and entrepreneur Marc Emery. Mr. Emery had been paying federal taxes that the Canadian government knew all about for his marijuana seed selling business. There were several similar marijuana seed selling businesses throughout Canada that unlike Emery's business did not pay federal taxes. Medical Marijuana patients in Canada turned to their government to find their medicine, which they were then sent to Marc Emery's business. Once the United States Drug Enforcement Administration pressured the Canadian government to do something about Mr. Emery, the Canadian government raided his store. Mr. Emery also ran a glossy magazine company called Cannabis Culture magazine and used the majority of the money he made from his business endeavours to donate to numerous legalization organizations in countries around the world. The Drug Enforcement Agency has attempted to extradite Marc Emery to the United States of America for life in prison with the intent to hurt the marijuana legalization community. In fact in the official statement of the raid Karen Tandy wrote "Today's Drug Enforcement Administration arrest of Marc Scott Emery, founder of a marijuana legalization group is a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the United States and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on." This statement alone clearly shows that the Drug Enforcement Agency is not after Marc Emery for his crimes, but rather for political reasons, which is illegal to extradite an individual for political reasons according to the US-Canada Extradition treaty.

It is apparent that the Drug Enforcement Administration does not consider medical marijuana as a viable medicine and seeks to go after individuals who leave long lasting affects in our culture that oppose the federal government's view of marijuana. With many states already having their own medical marijuana laws and some opening facilities where patients can have access to their herbal medicine called dispensaries. One has to wonder if there is a stigma also associated with it. I decided to do my own research and attend the 11Th annual Student for Sensible Drug Policy International Drug Conference in San Fransisco, California. Students from all around the globe came to the conference to learn about marijuana as an initiative from recreational use to medical use in terms of education of drug policy reform. While hearing from several politicians including Tom Ammiano; who showed that the resulting stigma of medical marijuana is not a political career suicide, but rather an opportunity. Oftentimes we hear a politician asked the question about medical marijuana. There are many politicians who have tried to dodge the question by using tough on crime stances afraid of what their constituents might do if they support the issue.

Representatives from CannBe, an organization that works with dispensaries to properly serve medical marijuana patients in cooperation with state law work with dispensaries and other individuals on how to become a legit business. Representatives like James Anthony and Steve DeAngelo explained that when dispensaries originally started popping up in California after voters passed medical marijuana in 1996 they were not properly ran. Many had inappropriate use of bouncers as if it was a nightclub, barbed wire was used for security purposes, and other issues needed to be considered like not being a nuisance to the community. Steve DeAngelo, C.E.O. of Harborside Health Center, a medical marijuana dispensary explained how these issues needed to be handled. For security purposes Harborside Health Center is equipped with many cameras to ensure who is on the property and that the medicine is not being used in the wrong locations. Many of these dispensaries are located nearby a daycare center or other businesses in the community and dispensaries like Harborside Health Center must operate as good neighbors to the community. There is a business plan that identifies dispensaries as non profit organizations. This ensures that the dispensary is about catering to the patient to provide them with their medicine and not take advantage of them financially. Those who break these rules are not complying with state law in California. One thing I found fascinating was that of all the herbal medicine Harborside Health Center is equipped with the majority of their product is not used because it fails the satisfactory condition of the product regulation. Medical marijuana that contains spider mites, mold, or has been grown with pesticides will not be sold in the facility and will be discarded to ensure that all the products are up to standard code. Imagine a state without medical marijuana where individuals consume marijuana without knowing what is in the product. This is a problem that is caused by our own federal government's decision to continue a prohibition on cannabis, the scientific term for marijuana. Individuals who do not live near a medical marijuana state are misinformed of how they operate and this is contributed to geographic isolation.

With this new information I have discussed the stigma against medical marijuana, which is becoming a property of the past like outdated ideas of the Earth being flat. Do dispensaries only offer medical marijuana as a service to their patients? When speaking to representatives of the Berkley Patients Group, a full service dispensary that allows cannabis to be sold and used in designated areas of the dispensary also provides a range of other services not commonly thought of in regards to services that most dispensaries offer. Such services that the Berkley Patients Group provides includes literacy workshop programs, several forms of therapy from massage to art, and much more as seen on the Berkley Patients Group February calendar. Like Harborside Health Center, the Berkley Patients Group also strives to be a good neighbor of the community. On April 20th, 2010 the Berkley Patients Group worked with other organizations of the community to hold a food and fund drive for several women's shelters in the area. Many dispensaries including the Berkley Patients Group and Harborside Health Center raised money to renovate an old theater in the community and ran a concert inside raising more money for the community. This is another example of how dispensaries are giving back to the community and doing so are operating as good neighbors.

Although there is much progress for medical marijuana are patients still being ignored and discriminated? In regards to several current events that answer is yes. Patients are still being ignored, discriminated and even given the death sentence. According to Cheryl Shuman, Executive Director the Beverly Hills National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, medical marijuana patients are being discriminated over organ transplants all over the United States of America. Medical marijuana patients who live in states that have medical marijuana laws are being ignored having their lives taken from them. States that allow medical marijuana respect a physician’s authority to prescribe medical marijuana to a patient of a qualifying condition, but as a result of the strict wording in the transplant program all medical marijuana patients are still considered substance abusers and are left to die when they are in need of an organ transplant. The result of the transplant rules are blatant hypocrisy. Medical Marijuana patients are not only being discriminated from organ transplants, but employment as well. According to Tahman Bradley, from ABC News reported, Joseph Casias, a medical marijuana patient from Michigan who was fired from his employer Walmart for being a medical marijuana patient. "Casias, 29, who took great pride in his job, once earning the honor of Associate of the Year." Casias was prescribed medical by his physician treating him of his diagnosed condition. Casias was suffers from sinus cancer and a brain tumor. Individuals like Mr. Casias are being discriminated by their employers for being medical marijuana patients, being licensed by their state's medical marijuana laws, obtaining a medical marijuana card after having permission from their physician to be prescribed medical marijuana. Once again the discrimination of these cases are purely driven by hypocrisy. Unfortunately the discrimination continues in academic institutions. According to Chelsi Moy, a reporter for the Missoulian, a disabled medical marijuana patient who is licensed by the state of Montana to posses a medical marijuana card by authority of his physician that prescribed him medical marijuana was penalized by the University of Montana for growing marijuana on campus in his dorm room. As a result the university had to rethink their policy regarding medical marijuana. Like most universities, first year students are required to live in dorms on campus, but the University of Montana is allowing waivers for medical marijuana patients who are students to live off campus. Even though the student had all the requirements that make him eligible for medical marijuana the University of Montana under the Student Conduct Code does not allow any illegal use possession or distribution of any controlled substance. Allen St. Pier, Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws commented on the case explaining how he is not aware of any university or college to accept medical marijuana on campus and doing so is possible to have any public academic institution's Federal funding taken away. Having studied the discrimination and hypocrisy of our medical marijuana laws I decided to explore the state of Michigan to see for myself what other type of discrimination occurred. I attended the 39th annual Hash Bash on April 3rd, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan taking place on the University of Michigan. It was explained by speaker from Hash Bash that an individual with a medical marijuana card could be charged criminally if they used it on the campus of the University of Michigan, but an individual without a card just across the street in full sight of the university off campus would be issued a civil infraction equivalent to a parking ticket. I understand that the universities that must deal with issues like this because they are located in medical marijuana states act the way they do in policy because they fear federal funding being taken away, however this is only another sign that our Federal laws need to be reexamined to fix counterproductive policies that are not working.

As more states follow through on the medical marijuana issue geopolitics will become apparent. For instance the state of Michigan became a medical marijuana state in 2008 and there are more states following the steps of Michigan, even Ohio. According to the Ohio Patient Network, a medical marijuana bill was introduced into Ohio legislature earlier this year. The bill was introduced by state representative Democrat Kenny Yukko and has several other co-sponsors. The bill is currently referred to as House Bill 478 and would include cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. Some are considering including Sickle Cell Anemia to the list which is currently treated with heavy opiod use, Dr. Rucknagel, the former director of University Cincinnati's Sickle Cell research center explained that Sickle Cell patients who use medical marijuana reduces the amount of opiods in their medication. I discussed Harborside Health Center earlier in my blog. The facility also offers a Substance Use and Misuse Clincal Services Program with Jennifer Janichek, John Caldwell Lorenz, and Jim Dickey. Each of these individuals are educated about harm reduction which has helped decrease the spread of certain sexually transmitted diseases, but also includes a practice called substitution. Using substitution patients who suffer from illnesses that require them to take heavy opiods can be countered by using marijuana to decrease the amount of opiods in their medication. The same method of substitution has been used on alcoholics to help them defeat their addiction. College students nationwide have a culture around social drinking and some believe that college students are being driven to drink. Mason Tvert, Executive Director and Co-founder of SAFER, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation and Co-Author of Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink explains how our current prohibition and lack of school funded education of marijuana is endorsing individuals to drink alcohol which killed 13,050 Americans in 2006 for alcohol liver diseases and killed 22,073 Americans of alcohol-induced deaths, not including accidents or homicides according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Bruce Mirkin, a writer for Alternet.org explained, there have been no reported deaths directly attributed from marijuana. In an effort to spread the word of Ohio's medical marijuana bill H.B. 478 and also mentioning how college students are being driven to drink, members of the Kent State University Student for Sensible Drug Policy appeared on Action 19 News. According to Action 19 News, "Along with distributing information about the relative harms of alcohol and marijuana on campus, students will also visit the office of University President Lester A. Lefton to deliver him the "Emerald Initiative" which they will urge him to endorse the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?" The SAFER organization explained the Emerald Initiative as calling on college and university presidents and chancellors as well as others to support "informed and dispassionate public debate" on whether allowing students to use marijuana more freely could reduce dangerous drinking on and around college campuses. While Brian Duffy from Action 19 News painted Kent State University's Students for Sensible Drug Policy for legalizing marijuana, Chapter President Chris Wallis stated, "That is simply untrue to our entire purpose the reason we are out here is to inform students the dangers of alcohol compared to the dangers of marijuana. We're wasting billions of tax payer dollars every year locking up non violent offenders for marijuana possession. If there is one medicine that you can grow yourself making you live pain free, why should you be a criminal?"


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