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Monday, April 07, 2014

Interpreting Medical Marijuana

"(It is worth noting that at the time this legislation was passed the cannabis plant was so misunderstood that a report misstated that cannabis resin could be injected, like heroin, into a person's arm.)"
Excerpt, A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition *

"We believe that the mechanism for discouragement should not be more damaging to the individual than the drugs themselves. We will continue to discourage marijuana use, but we feel criminal penalties that brand otherwise law-abiding people for life are neither an effective nor an appropriate deterrent."
Peter Bourne, director, Office of Drug Abuse Policy, 1978
Drug enforcement officers stuff plastic bags with : News Photo

The U.S. Congress in its wisdom placed cannabis in its Schedule 1 category for federal drug control purposes, alongside heroin within the Controlled Substances Act in 1969. Such addictive, mind-altering substances are medically-scientifically interpreted to gauge their potential harm and medical potential. Each such identified substance is listed in a category ranging from 1 downward to Five; 1 representing the most tightly regulated to identify the substance perceived to have no medical use but with the potential for the most dangerous abuse.

At the same time the CSA took steps to have mandatory minimum drug sentences reduced in severity of consequence. Simple cannabis possession for first-time offenders was reduced from a minimum of two-up-to-ten years in prison, to up to one year. Despite that in 1972, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse whose purpose it was to research cannabis and recommend government policies out of their conclusions, had recommended total decriminalization.

"Unless present policy is redirected, we will perpetuate the same problems, tolerate the same social costs and find ourselves as we do now, no further along the road to a more rational legal and social approach than we were in 1914", wrote the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, tasked by President Nixon himself to reach a conclusion, one he ultimately set aside.

Under President Richard Nixon  a budget was put in place to enable what was termed the "war on drugs", amounting to $81-million in 1971. By the time he left office the budget had shot up to $800-million. A budget whose exponential rise matching the hysteria over growing evidence of increasing drug addiction, skyrocketed to a staggering $25.4-billion for the 2014 year. President Nixon's view was not a punitive one; he attempted to link prohibition with treatment.

"It has been a common over-simplification to consider narcotics addiction or drug abuse to be a law enforcement problem alone", he stated in 1969 to Congress. According to the publication, A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition, authored by Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian: "While many presidents have since repeated versions of this sentiment, Nixon was the only president to spend more money on drug treatment and prevention than on enforcement."

They explain in their book, that in 1972, a 24-year-old, Robert Randall moved to Washington as a speechwriter. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with glaucoma. The future looked dim for him, advised that his sight would continue to deteriorate and he would likely be totally blind by the time he reached the ripe old age of thirty. A year later, he shared a joint with a friend, and noted an improvement in his vision. It did not take long for him to conclude after a series of such events that cannabis had reduced the pressure in his eyes, something none of the prescribed medications had achieve.

With the aid of a five-year-old cannabis lobby named the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Mr. Randall, challenged by his lawyer to prove that the use of cannabis relieved his condition and the symptoms thereof to enable him to take the legal battle to the government on its restrictive, punitive view on the use of marijuana, he was able to obtain documents relating to the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis.

Thus began his personal odyssey. He found information from NIDA focusing on a study at the University of California-Los Angeles on cannabis and glaucoma. Dr. Robert Hepler, the medical researcher, had procured his study cannabis from the federal research farm at the University of Mississippi. Four months after Mr. Randall had been arrested by authorities for the possession and use of cannabis he became a research subject in one of Dr. Hepler's glaucoma studies, representing the Marijuana Research Project at UCLA.

The results of that research confirmed that smoking cannabis had indeed reduced the pressure in Mr. Randall's eyes, bringing him relief, and decelerating his trajectory to blindness. No other therapeutic protocol had produced similar results. Inspiring Mr. Randall to challenge his arrest with the argument that using cannabis represented for him a medical necessity. Separately, he petitioned for a supply of cannabis as a medical assist for his condition from the federal farm.

The publicity that accompanied this led to a more benevolent attitude in the public toward cannabis through a resulting flouting of drug laws in the 1970s. Eventually, in the years between 1968 and 1970, 33 states amended their laws toward leniency where cannabis possession was recognized as a misdemeanor and not a felony. In California by 1975, marijuana possession under an ounce-weight was reduced to a violation with a fine of up to $100.

Jimmy Carter, writes Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian, was the first (only, as well) president to consider the decriminalization of cannabis possession, and congressional hearings were held to discuss the possibilities. Mr. Carter was spurred to his avuncular take on the matter by the simple enough fact that his son Chip was a personal friend of NORML's Keith Stroup, a young lawyer who had founded NORML.

*A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition ( published by The New Press, c. 2014. Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian

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