Monday, October 19, 2009

Medical marijuana and Federalism

I am really torn on this issue as I am not a person who has ever used an illegal substance in his life nor do I personally approve of their use for recreational purposes. When it comes to the use of marijuana for medical uses, I find myself having to agree with advocates for several reasons. These reasons are political, philosophical, medical, legal and economic.

I wish to restate that I do NOT approve of drug use for recreational purposes... If a doctor were to see a valid therapeutic use for a particular substance, he should be able to prescribe that substance as he or she sees fit. Lawyers or politicians in charge of drug policy who have no expertise in medicine or biochemistry should probably butt out.

The use of medical marijuana has currently been approved in 14 states. Federal law has been very strict on the issue of not allowing the use of this treatment, and indeed, the FDA has not approved specific treatments. This conflict between states rights and federal law have been a huge issue and have impacted the doctor/patient relationship and ability of seriously ill people to seek whatever treatments they and their medical practitioners want to use. The Obama administration change of federal guidelines on prosecutions for distribution, sale or consumption of medicinal marijuana, provided that those activities are within the scope of existing state laws, should alleviate some of the problems we have seen occur. This change in policy does not give blanket approval to users and those who grow and sell the drug. Recreational users would still face sanction as would their suppliers. This change merely gives federal prosecutors more latitude in pursuing cases against users and dispensers of medicinal marijuana. Essentially, you could treat marijuana the same way opium is treated. It is used as a pharmacological product in such drugs a morphine, codeine, Percocet, and OxyContin.

Medically, there is ample proof that for certain patients, specifically those being treated for cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments and who suffer from the pain and nausea associated with those treatments, the use of medicinal marijuana is beneficial. Treatments for those suffering from glaucoma have been proven as well in some studies here and abroad. These reasonable exemptions alone should be enough to trump federal regulation.

Politically, I have to admit that I see this as a winning issue among the more liberal and libertarian voter base. If use of marijuana is restricted to medical use, then it will be seen as humanitarian and thus palatable to most liberals even if it isn’t completely permitted for all uses. For the more libertarian voters who see any government regulation on the subject of drug use as undesirable or unconstitutional, it is a step in the right direction even if a small step toward complete decriminalization.

Philosophically, as a conservative, I have always been of the mind that the government that governs least, governs best and that we should adhere to a more strict interpretation of the constitution. Specifically, those powers in Article 1, Section 8 of the constitution should be the only areas where the Federal Government has sway. The rest of the regulations should be left in the hands of the individual state governments. Provided that purity was assured and dosages were uniform the same as other drugs that are dispensed today. That approach is the Federalist system in a nutshell.

The economic advantage to allowing medicinal use becomes evident when you consider the cost of enforcement activities in states that allow medical use. Law enforcement resources could be redeployed elsewhere allowing them to be utilized for crimes that are more serious in nature. The reduction of prison and jail populations would be an immediate positive result as well. There is also the commercial component to consider when you look at the revenue that can be generated for states and business that grow, process, and distribute medical grade marijuana. Sales taxes would help states generate revenue needed for support programs for those needing drug treatments. Jobs would be generated and other tax revenues would increase as well from the businesses and jobs created.

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