Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Medical Marijuana in DC

Yesterday, the typically strange state of affairs here inside the Beltway got a little bit stranger. In a vote that surprised basically no-one, the DC Council gave the go-ahead for residents of the District to use medicinal marijuana. There are several significant hurdles still to be cleared, but if they are, those suffering from chronic conditions will be entitled to up to four ounces of da chronic monthly to assist them in ameliorating their suffering. This is good news for many.

I, for instance, suffer from LDSCEDD, an ailment I've had to endure since graduating from elementary school. Fortunately, my Little Debbie Snack Cake Enjoyment Deficiency Disorder is entirely curable through the wonders of medical marijuana, now potentially just a stone's throw away in DC.

Doofy efforts at stoner humor aside, there are those...particularly those suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, glaucoma, and other illnesses...for whom medical marijuana makes a real difference. Acknowledging this, though, I must 'fess up to being completely out of step with the rest of America on the whole issue of cannabis. Most Americans (typically around 60%) are in favor of medical marijuana. But I've got a real problem with it.

Pot as medication may be efficacious, but it bears no resemblance to other prescribable pharmaceuticals. It's typically smoked, which ain't that great for ya. Wacky tobacky is an impressive melange of psychoactive substances, whose interplay is not entirely clear. If Pfizer produced a substance as chemically amorphous as your average sativa, there's not a chance it would ever get cleared. Still, it does do something...although what that something is simply isn't understood.

Mostly, though, I don't like the idea of medical marijuana because it is clearly a trojan horse. In places like California, where it is the law of the land, marijuana dispensaries bend over backwards to accommodate just about any medical condition. Many have doctors conveeeeniently located on site to pitch out that scrip. Depressed? Smoke some pot. Have anger management issues? Here's a doobie. Have ADHD? This plump sweet sticky bud's what you need...or, at a bare minimum, will give you an excuse for, like, not having it together, man. Though there are some conditions whose symptoms can legitimately be treated with cannabis, that just ain't the way it's playing out.

That folds a peculiar contempt for the law into the law itself. And a law that exists to be broken or as a loophole around other laws just shouldn't be bothered with. That entirely defeats the purpose of the law. So while most Americans, motivated by sympathy for the suffering, feel that cannabis should be made legal for primarily therapeutic use, I disagree.

Unlike the majority of Americans, I think marijuana should be legal. Period. It should be available for those who use it to reduce the suffering caused by an illness. But it should also be available to those who just happen to enjoy it.

The reasons for that are simple. While it's not great for you, it's no worse for you than alcohol and tobacco. Cannabis does not cause the same type of physical addiction as alcohol and nicotine. Unlike alcohol, it is one of the least lethal substances known to man. There is no such thing as a marijuana overdose. It does not lead to violent behavior, unless by "violent behavior" we mean "the presidency of the United States." Yeah, I know, but that's another argument for another time.

Most importantly from a societal perspective, the criminalization of marijuana breeds a contempt for the law. Laws in a democratic republic need to be based on reason, and to be clearly justifiable to a disinterested observer. Cocaine, for instance, is a substance that is radically addictive. It also has major negative impacts on an individual's ability to function as a citizen, not to mention the fact that it turns just about anyone into an impossibly insufferable egotist. We Americans are too self-absorbed already. Substances like meth are even worse.

But pot is not those things. By criminalizing a substance that is comparable in effect to other legal and regulated substances, we have created a "gateway" drug. Despite the fulminations of anti-drug propaganda, it isn't a pharmacological gateway. There is no evidence to suggest that such a thing can even exist.

Instead, it's a sociological gateway. When we establish laws that aren't rational, we create significant subcultures of resistance to the law. When we prosecute individuals for "crimes" that do no significant harm to either the individuals themselves or the communities in which they are located, citizens begin to see the law not as a way of protecting the integrity of our society, but as essentially arbitrary and oppressive. Marijuana, which is easy to produce and obtain and does little harm, has become a significant point of entry into a subculture of illicit drug consumption. That is not it's "fault" as a substance, but rather our fault for enforcing laws around cannabis that have a really shaky conceptual foundation. In the same way that our insane drinking age has created a culture of clandestine binge drinking among our young adults, laws criminalizing marijuana have fueled a culture of disrespect for the legal frameworks that should protect us from truly harmful substances. This does not serve our interests as a people.

So as I watch the District of Columbia start down the same shadowy, disingenuous path as California, I find myself oddly bothered. Why...why...why...can't we just do this right?