When Medical Marijuana Is Misused

June 23, 2005

EDITORIAL, New York Times

Those who believe, as we do, that marijuana should be legally available for medical treatments have to be concerned about reports of abuses in California's pioneering medical marijuana program. If the abuses cannot be curbed, a political backlash could undermine the ability of thousands of patients to get marijuana to treat the nausea of chemotherapy, the loss of appetite that accompanies AIDS and other medical problems.

The future of medical marijuana in California and 10 other states that allow its use is already precarious given a recent Supreme Court decision that the federal government may prohibit and prosecute the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. Nobody yet knows what impact that decision will have on the states but raids by federal agents on medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco this week could be harbingers of a broader crackdown. Public officials would be wise to clean up their programs lest flagrant abuses by a few bad actors bring about destruction of a program that benefits many.

In this environment, it was worrisome to read a first-person report in The Times on June 12, that the writer, a 31-year-old marathon runner, found it 'shockingly easy' to obtain marijuana in San Francisco. Although she was in peak health, she sought medical marijuana on the grounds that she suffered a migraine headache every month or so. After her own health plan turned her down, she got a recommendation from a clinic doctor who never asked to see her medical records. His say-so was enough to get her an identification card from the city's health department, along with cards for two friends she had designated as 'primary caregivers' so that they could pick up her marijuana if she felt too ill to fetch it herself. That laissez-faire transaction sounds like an easy target for anyone seeking to denigrate the whole program.

Californians who support medical uses of marijuana see the danger and are already moving to tighten regulations. Public officials and even medical marijuana advocates in California have been looking for ways to rein in abuses and oversee the dispensaries. Stronger regulation, some say, would help defuse opposition and send a message that, whatever federal drug officials may have in mind, the state stands behind its medical marijuana law.



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