Lives Won't Go Up In Smoke If Marijuana Used Medicinally

May 31, 2007

Mark Braunstein, OpEd, The Day (CT)

After its longest debate of this legislative session, the Connecticut House of Representatives last week passed for its second time in three years what today is known as House Bill 6715, An Act concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana. Courtesy of public access through Web broadcast video, I was able to listen to five of the six hours of the discussion.

During debate, advocates seldom challenged the opposition's many erroneous assertions. One of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep.

Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, did say after the vote that she could have disputed the opposition's claims, but instead she coolly sat it out and let the heated debate take its course. As a paraplegic who has used marijuana medicinally for 17 years, and publicly for the past 10, I instead must take a stand.

In past debates, many legislators had loudly called to question the very efficacy of medical marijuana. This year, however, such doubts were largely muffled. This can in part be credited to the many patients since 1997 who have volunteered their testimony at hearings before the Public Health and the Judiciary committees. Many of their painful stories encapsulated into three minutes are not easily forgotten. What does appear to have been forgotten is the list of more than 300 medical doctors in Connecticut who three years ago endorsed the bill.

The objections voiced this year by House members instead centered on the tangential issue of marijuana as a recreational drug. In doing so, they confused medicinal apples for recreational oranges. Their two main contentions were these: marijuana is an addictive drug; and it opens a gateway to even more addictive drugs.

I dispute both claims. For living proof, I look to all my friends and to the millions of youths who smoked pot during the 1960s, but eventually tired of and outgrew it in the '70s. No rehab, no 12-step programs, no purges. They simply shed it like a winter coat in summer. Now pushing 60, some of those former pot smokers have infiltrated the ranks of our legislators. Rather than further lengthen the debate, they simply ignored the opposition's impassioned but baseless claims, and voted for the bill.

House members opposed to the bill several times cited extreme cases of ruined lives gone to pot. Some recreational users do become habitual abusers, but they rank among the exceptions, not the far broader rule. Adherents to the gene theory of addiction believe that if marijuana did not exist, born addicts who placate their addictive behavior with marijuana instead would seek harder drugs, namely tobacco and alcohol.

On a personal note, I can attest that except for one cup of coffee once a month, I abstain from all addictive drugs, whether recreational or medicinal, whether herbal or pharmaceutical. Now age 55, during my lifetime I smoked tobacco only once and got drunk only twice. I must not have been born an addict.

Presently, when I refrain from my herbal medication, I experience return of the muscle spasms and shooting pains that are the symptoms of spinal cord injury. As for any symptoms of withdrawal from marijuana, I experience none. Able to abstain from addictive tranquilizers to relax my spasms, and from addictive narcotics to assuage my pains, my life is not ruined precisely because I have gone to pot.

Then there's the tiresome gateway theory. It is not true that 99 percent of all coke, crack and heroin addicts first started their descent on drugs with marijuana. They first started their descent with caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. What is true is that 99 percent of all youths who use marijuana never go on to use coke, crack or heroin. For that 1-percent minority, the relationship of marijuana to other recreational drugs is associative, not causative. If you restricted the sale of milk to only nightclubs and bars, then you could say that drinking milk leads to drinking alcohol.

Again on a personal note, I can attest that I have tried coke only once and never tried crack or heroin. Never. And not for lack of opportunity. During my field research into the drug scene in southeastern Connecticut, I have borne witness a dozen times while people smoked crack and shot heroin. Indeed they were just people, not monsters nor demons. Demons may or may not lurk in the drugs they use. But demons surely reside in our fears of the drugs we do not use and therefore do not know.

Mark Braunstein is a college librarian, a nature photographer, and the author of two books and many articles about art, literature, vegetarianism and wildlife. He has testified in support of Connecticut's medical marijuana bills many times before the Public Health and Judiciary committees, and hopes this year will be the last. He can be reached at herman.melville@yahoo.com.



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