Marijuana is not a hard pill to swallow

June 01, 2005

Steve Smith, Columnist, Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa

The last thing that Newport Beach or Costa Mesa needs is another legalized drug. But the exception to this is to allow medical marijuana to be dispensed in either town.

The issue of a medical marijuana dispensary came up recently and even made it to the May 24 agenda of the Newport Beach City Council meeting. The proposal was to allow 45 days for an examination of the ramifications of such a facility. 

There are several sides to this issue, one that is undoubtedly going to be unfairly painted as a backdoor attempt to legalize pot. Expect that assertion but don't let it interfere with your examination of the facts.

One of the most important facts is that marijuana is a proven, legitimate medical remedy. Marijuana has proven to be effective in reducing nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy, in reducing internal eye pressure that progressively leads to blindness in glaucoma, in increasing the appetite for AIDS patients suffering from the wasting syndrome, and in reducing muscle spasms for people with epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

A few years ago, two Harvard professors, psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon and lawyer James Bakalar, recommended medicinal marijuana in a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

Other organizations including the California Nursing Assn., the California Academy of Family Physicians and the Chicago Tribune -- the flagship of the media company that owns this newspaper -- came out several years ago in support of the state's medical marijuana legislation, known as Proposition 215.

That initiative, which passed, did not legalize marijuana. It changed how certain people -- medical patients and their primary caregivers -- will be treated by the State of California's court system.

But some folks look at anything having to do with marijuana, and all they can see through their 60s-colored glasses are long-haired hippies in tie-dye shirts. It is sad but true that one of the great negatives of medical marijuana's advancement is that it has to be smoked to be effective. If this discussion were about a pill, there would be no discussion.

All of the hand wringing over a local dispensary is at once comical and hypocritical. I find it funny that medical marijuana has scared so many otherwise intelligent people into believing that our children are going to be exposed to pot on every street corner if we allow a local dispensary.

Uh, sorry folks, but regular pot can be found on every high school campus. Kids have no trouble getting it. Does that alone make the dispensary OK? No, I mention it only for the comic effect.

The hypocrisy comes into play when I see a liquor license granted to a new restaurant, but we deny a few people the opportunity to ease their pain with medical marijuana. Just because alcohol is legal doesn't make it better. Alcohol, in my opinion, has done far greater damage to society than the same usage of marijuana ever could. Yet, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa support hundreds of places to get alcohol, a highly dangerous drug. If I had to choose, marijuana would be legal and alcohol would not.

Even the belief that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana is not enough support for a dispensary. What makes the dispensary legitimate is that it offers relief to people who are sick. That is enough of a reason.

But on the flip side, I'm still questioning the whole concept of a dispensary with the specific purpose of providing marijuana. After all, if the typical dispensary customer needs a doctor's permission to get the marijuana, why can't the doctor issue it? Why the need to draw attention to this particular remedy? Doctors routinely write prescriptions, which are filled at local drug stores, for drugs that are far more potent. That, it seems to me, should work for medical marijuana as well.

Regular readers of this column who have assumed my conservative stance on every issue will be surprised today. But important issues should not be decided on liberal or conservative lines or by the allegiance to a particular political party. Some issues, such as this one, must be decided simply on what is just and fair.

Medical marijuana is not going to destroy our culture. In fact, allowing it to be issued will be a sign of great compassion, something that will make us even stronger.

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