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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one
 

Movement on marijuana a good first step

By Sara Foss
Monday, January 6, 2014

On Facebook, a friend of mine regularly voices support for the legalization of medical marijuana.
Her son has Crohn’s disease — an inflammatory bowel disease that has no cure.
In an essay explaining her advocacy, she says that her son, who is now in his 20s, has been sick for half his life, and that marijuana can help ease his pain.
“I am an advocate because after time, I realized that marijuana, a simple tool of my teenage rebellion, was now the key to helping my son achieve a much better quality of life,” she writes.
Because the federal government classifies marijuana as an illegal Schedule I drug that has the potential for abuse and addiction and currently has no accepted medical use, research on marijuana’s possible benefits has been limited.
Even so, a growing body of research suggests that marijuana provides relief for a range of serious illnesses, such as cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, sleep apnea, osteoporosis and, yes, Crohn’s disease. That might explain why 76 percent of U.S. doctors surveyed by the New England Journal of Medicine last spring said they would prescribe medical marijuana to their patients. It must be infuriating for my friend to know that there are doctors who would be willing to treat her son’s painful condition with marijuana, if only doing so were legal.
I’ve interviewed other sick people who have obtained relief by smoking pot. One of the most prominent local proponents of medical marijuana is former WNYT news anchor Ed Dague, who suffers from a chronic inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis. This painful ailment forced him to vacate the anchor’s chair in 2003. A cynic might assume that all these people are lying potheads looking to get stoned and listen to jam bands, but I’ve found the many stories and reports of marijuana’s medicinal benefits impossible to ignore.
Over the weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would legalize medical marijuana. Under the governor’s plan, 20 hospitals would be permitted to dispense marijuana for certain ailments that meet criteria set by the state Department of Health.
Cuomo’s action might not seem like a big deal when you consider what’s going on in, say, Colorado, which began allowing sales of recreational marijuana on Jan. 1. There’s certainly nothing particularly bold or visionary about what the governor is doing: New York will join 20 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, in granting sick people access to marijuana. But it is a step in the right direction, especially when you consider the state’s overly punitive approach to drug use and its willingness to fill its prisons with nonviolent drug offenders.
If I object to anything, it’s Cuomo’s approach to legalizing marijuana: The governor plans to sign an executive order reviving a dormant medical marijuana measure from 1980. Personally, I’d much rather see medical marijuana legalized through the legislative process than fiat, and I worry that Cuomo’s decision to bypass the Legislature sets a bad precedent.
Some have criticized the governor for flip-flopping on the issue of medical marijuana, but this doesn’t particularly concern me. I’m always happy when a politician undergoes a change of heart that results in support for the things I support.
Whether legalizing medical marijuana will pave the way to further loosening of the state’s drug laws or outright legalization remains an open question.
Last year the governor expressed support for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, but the proposal died in the Legislature amid concerns that marijuana is a gateway to crime and more dangerous substances.
However, it’s possible the Legislature is out of touch with public sentiment.
A recent Gallup poll showed that 58 percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, a huge increase from the mid-2000s, when just 36 percent supported legalizing marijuana. About 38 percent of Americans say they have tried the drug, while a much smaller percentage — about 7 percent — say they currently smoke it.
According to the poll, “Americans’ support for legalizing marijuana has grown markedly in the past two decades, possibly aided by strong medical-marijuana movements in some states. While this might leave the impression that increasing numbers of Americans are using marijuana recreationally, Gallup finds no such surge in Americans’ self-reported experience with the drug. In fact, the percentage of young adults trying marijuana has declined since 1985.”
So it’s possible that legalizing medical marijuana in New York will pave the way to legalizing pot altogether.
This would be fine with me: I know far too many people who have smoked marijuana and gone on to live productive lives to believe “Reefer Madness”-type horror stories depicting the drug as some kind of corrupting demon weed.
But I recognize that legalization is still controversial, and that voters are still evolving on the issue. The least we can do, as I see it, is legalize medical marijuana and provide seriously sick people with a better quality of life.
Sara Foss, a Gazette columnist, can be reached at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.

 
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