“Medical Marijuana?” No, it’s Just Marijuana. Now what? – Part I

“Medical marijuana” is a trending national debate and hot topic.  First let me break down the fallacy of the term, “medical marijuana.”  Marijuana is a schedule I narcotic, still classified as such by the Federal government.  Additionally, it may be important to understand a little history on cannabis/marijuana.  “The Pure Food and Drug Actwas passed by the United States Congress in 1906 and required that certain special drugs, including cannabis, be accurately labeled with contents. Previously, many drugs had been sold as patent medicines with secret ingredients or misleading labels.  Even after the passage of regulations, there continued to be criticisms about the availability of narcotics and around 1910 there was a wave of legislation aimed to strengthen requirements for their sale and remove what were commonly referred to as “loopholes” in poison laws. The new revisions aimed to restrict all narcotics, including cannabis, as poisons, limit their sale to pharmacies, and require doctor’s prescriptions. The first instance was in the District of Columbia in 1906, under ‘An act to regulate the practice of pharmacy and the sale of poisons in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes’. This act was updated in 1938 to the “Federal Pure Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938” which remains in effect even today, creating a legal paradox for federal sentencing. Under this act, the framework for prescription and non-prescription drugs and foods are set, along with standards as well as the enforcing agency, the FDA (Federal Drug Administration). “Goods found in violation of the law were subject to seizure and destruction at the expense of the manufacturer. That, combined with a legal requirement that all convictions be published (Notices of Judgment), proved to be important tools in the enforcement of the statute and had a deterrent effect upon would-be violators.”  Marijuana remains classified under this law and is defined as a “dangerous drug”.

Further regulation of marijuana/cannabis followed in Massachusetts (1911), New York (1914), and Maine (1914). In New York, reform legislation began under the “Towns-Boylan Act”, which targeted “all habit-forming drugs”, restricted their sale, prohibited refills in order to prevent addiction, prohibited sale to people with an addiction, and prohibited doctors who were themselves addicted from selling them.  Shortly after, several amendments were passed by the New York Board of Health, including adding marijuana/cannabis to the list of “habit-forming drugs.”

A New York Times article noted on the marijuana/cannabis amendment:

“The inclusion of Cannabis indica among the drugs to be sold only on prescription is common sense. Devotees of hashish are now hardly numerous here enough to count, but they are likely to increase as other narcotics become harder to obtain.”

Ironically, in the West, the first state to include marijuana/cannabis as a poison was California. The Poison Act was passed in 1907 and amended in 1909 and 1911, and in 1913 an amendatory act (Stats. 1913, Ch. 342, p. 697) was made to make possession of “extracts, tinctures, or other narcotic preparations of hemp, or loco-weed, their preparations and compounds” a misdemeanor.  There’s no evidence that the law was ever used or intended to restrict pharmaceutical cannabis; instead it was a legislative mistake, and in 1915 another revision placed cannabis under the same restriction as other poisons.

Other states followed with marijuana laws including: Wyoming (1915); Texas (1919); Iowa (1923); Nevada (1923); Oregon (1923); Washington (1923); Arkansas (1923); and Nebraska (1927).

The article went on to say, “One source of tensions in the western and southwestern states was the influx of Mexicans to the US. Many Mexicans also smoked marijuana to relax after working in the fields.   Later in the 1920s, negative tensions grew between the small farms and the large farms that used cheaper Mexican labor. Shortly afterwards, the Great Depression came which increased tensions as jobs and resources became more scarce. Because of that, the passage of the initial laws is often described as a product of racism, yet use of hashish by near eastern immigrants was also cited, as well as the misuse of pharmaceutical hemp, and the laws conformed with other legislation that was being passed around the country. Mexico itself had passed prohibition in 1925, following the International Opium Convention.” 

I guess a look back to this legislation should prompt us to ask why did they make marijuana/cannabis illegal?  I would submit that they observed the effects of marijuana and saw them as negative.  Clearly people did not view marijuana/cannabis as beneficial and as such they passed laws against it and classified it as a “poison.”

Frankly, the term “medical marijuana” is a disingenuous term.  Because of the classification of marijuana as a schedule I narcotic there are no medical studies that have been performed in the United States that are recognized or pointed to as medical science.  I would challenge anyone to point to a government or medically sanctioned scientific study that identifies medicinal properties or principles of marijuana.  This is not to say or deny that marijuana may have medical principles.  Simply put, this is to point out that because of the classification of marijuana as a schedule I narcotic by the Federal Government, it has been deemed to have no “medicinal” value.  To then refer to marijuana as “medical marijuana” would appear to be a contradictory term.  For this very reason, those that are attempting to “sway” the public and legislators to legalize marijuana are at the very core misrepresenting facts or flat out lying.  Those groups should call this what it is, the legalization of marijuana, not the legalization of “medical marijuana.”

In recent discussions that I have had with those that support the legalization of marijuana I have told these individuals or groups that I appreciate knowing where they stand on the issue.  At the end of the discussion we will have to disagree on many of the principles involving intoxicating substances and in particular marijuana.  I have personally seen marijuana and addiction to marijuana ruin lives.  Once productive citizens, full of promise, they have thrown their life away as a result of using/abusing cannabis/marijuana.  Clearly I am much closer to this issue than many others in our community.  I am not even talking about the criminal aspect of marijuana (arrest, conviction and incarceration for marijuana), rather the results of its use.  From a personal perspective, I have old childhood friends who have never been arrested, but are chronic users of marijuana.  We have not continued our association, because of vast differences in lifestyle and philosophy.  They are not, and have not ever been, truly productive in a career or their life.  In fact several still live with their parents, have never married, etc.

In 26 years of law enforcement experience I have also witnessed the negative effects of marijuana on those I have interacted with as a result of my functions in Corrections and Enforcement.  I have had the privilege of spending nearly half of my career in Corrections and half of my career in Enforcement.  I believe this has given me a broader understanding and view of the negative effects of intoxicants/drugs on individuals I have arrested and those that I have witnessed being confined in jail or prison for those addictions and subsequent criminal acts and behavior.

I feel that I fully understand both sides of the issue involving the legalization of marijuana.  When I have discussed this issue with colleagues or neighbors the question was about legalization of marijuana.  Very recently 90 plus percent of those that I have discussed the issue with said they were opposed to the legalization of marijuana.  I listen to polls in my own State, Utah, that indicate that 65 plus percent of those polled support the legalization of “medical marijuana.”  I would pose the question, “how was that question formulated and posed to those polled?”  When those conducting the poll throw in the term “medical” it skews the numbers and evokes a sympathetic response.  We all know that depending on the way a question is formulated and posed, you can elicit a certain response.  I would submit that if the question was posed correctly, the results of the survey would be much different.

Recently I had a discussion with one of my legislators.  This legislator and I disagree on the legalization of marijuana.  This particular legislator stated that he felt that “the people” should have the right to choose for themselves and that it was based on their “God given, unalienable right” in their own “pursuit of happiness.”  This legislator then posed the following question to me, “What does the “God given, unalienable right to life” mean to you?”

My answer was that I would view this question much like the following explanation that I found as I was reading some articles regarding freedom and the intent of our Founding Fathers as they formed the framework of Government, “This governmental philosophy is uniquely American. The concept of Man’s rights being unalienable is based solely upon the belief in their Divine origin. Lacking this belief, there is no moral basis for any claim that they are unalienable or for any claim to the great benefits flowing from this concept. God-given rights are sometimes called Natural Rights–those possessed by Man under the Laws of Nature, meaning under the laws of God’s creation and therefore by gift of God. Man has no power to alienate–to dispose of, by surrender, barter or gift–his God-given rights, according to the American philosophy. This is the meaning of “unalienable.”  One underlying consideration is that for every such right there is a correlative, inseparable duty–for every aspect of freedom there is a corresponding responsibility; so that it is always Right-Duty and Freedom-Responsibility, or Liberty-Responsibility. There is a duty, or responsibility, to God as the giver of these unalienable rights: a moral duty–to keep secure and use soundly these gifts, with due respect for the equal rights of others and for the right of Posterity to their just heritage of liberty. Since this moral duty cannot be surrendered, bartered, given away, abandoned, delegated or otherwise alienated, so is the inseparable right likewise unalienable. This concept of rights being unalienable is thus dependent upon belief in God as the giver. This indicates the basis and the soundness of Jefferson’s statement (1796 letter to John Adams): “If ever the morals of a people could be made the basis of their own government it is our case . . .Whenever Man violates either the equal rights of others or the above-mentioned just laws, he thereby forfeits his immunity in this regard; by his misconduct, he destroys the moral and legal basis for his immunity and opens the door to just reprisal against himself, by government. This means that any person, as such offender, may justly be punished by the people’s proper instrumentality–the government, including the courts–under a sound system of equal justice under equal laws; that is, under Rule-by-Law (basically the people’s fundamental law, the Constitution). Such punishment is justified morally because of the duty of all Individuals–in keeping with Individual Liberty-Responsibility–to cooperate, through their instrumentality, government, for the mutual protection of the unalienable rights of all Individuals. The offender is also justly answerable to the aggrieved Individual, acting properly through duly-established machinery of government, including courts, designed for the protection of the equal rights of all Individuals.

It is the offender’s breach of the duty aspect of Individual Liberty-Responsibility which makes just, proper and necessary government’s punitive action and deprives him of any moral basis for protest. By such breach he forfeits his moral claim to the inviolability of his rights and makes himself vulnerable to reprisal by the people, through government, in defense of their own unalienable rights. By this lack of self-discipline required by that duty, he invites and makes necessary his being disciplined by government.”

I think that we can agree, and there is much evidence that when left to their own devices, people will not govern themselves.  All one has to do is watch the news each day to see that this is the case.  Murder, robbery, rape, violence against each other and frankly violence against those who represent the government.  Violence against them just because of what they represent or are perceived to represent.  To say otherwise would be completely disingenuous.  Make no mistake about it; there are those in our society that are all about the abolishment of government and anarchy.   I believe that we have seen the steady march to that time and I submit the march toward that time has been accelerated!

One legislator stated to me, “To say that medical cannabis is “anarchist” or “libertarian” or will lead to all our children smoking pot in the streets is a shallow argument. If anything it represents true conservatism and espouses our principles of republicanism, and of limited government. The current law banning medicinal cannabis for health and life issues is nothing short of totalitarianism.”

My answer to him was, and is, that “children” and others currently smoke pot in their homes, cars, parks and on the streets.  It is not a shallow argument, it is taking place whether people want to acknowledge it or not.  By legalizing marijuana/cannabis and having dispensaries there will be further abuse.  Do children get people to provide them with alcohol illegally?  Do people provide alcohol to children illegally against our current law?  The answer is yes to both questions.  Do people currently acquire and use marijuana illegally?  Yes they do and the purpose is to get high, plain and simple.

The argument is made by proponents for the legalization of marijuana that, “More people die every year from FDA approved prescribed pharmaceutical opiates than any other drug category, including illicit drugs. Prescription pain opiates have outnumbered heroin and cocaine deaths combined since 2002 in Utah. Sure there are pain pharmaceuticals but they are unbelievably addicting and they kill you.”

Frankly, it appears that this debate over marijuana/cannabis will continue for years.  No matter your personal position on the issue of marijuana, there will always be two sides to the argument and issue.  Personally, I cannot support the legalization of marijuana simply based on my observations, which have been the destruction of potential, motivation and the very soul of those who have fallen to the addictive grip of marijuana.

What I would support is the reclassification of marijuana so that scientific studies can be performed to identify any medicinal properties that can be harnessed and used to treat illnesses.  If there are medicinal properties identified and accepted by the medical community, then those medicinal properties can be applied to those who may benefit from those medical properties.

What we should be doing is having an honest discussion about the issue and let’s call it what it is, marijuana, not “medical marijuana.”

Darin Durfey

Author: Darin Durfey

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