Allow marijuana to serve a purpose and ease suffering

November 29, 2007

EDITORIAL, The Tennessean

Our View

Tennessee lawmakers should not only consider legislation allowing the medicinal use of marijuana, they should pass it into law.

A study committee of the General Assembly recently heard testimony on the issue, where various voices from interest groups and the medical profession expressed their opinions. Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, has a draft version of a bill for consideration. Efforts to legalize the use of the drug for medical reasons should move straight ahead, and caring citizens should urge legislators to approve the legislation.

Marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes in 12 states. Even many of its detractors acknowledge some of its benefits in easing suffering. But opposition to legalizing the use of the drug to help seriously ill patients find comfort seems to dwell more on the stigma associated with marijuana than anything else. Arguments against medical marijuana dwell frequently on what is heard about the drug's use elsewhere, frequently using California as an example, with tales of marijuana becoming a storefront for drug business or that use of the drug gets out of hand.

Regardless of what happens in California or any other state, this is Tennessee, and if the state cannot effectively administer a drug under carefully drawn regulations, that's a reflection on this state, not another. Pharmaceutical painkillers are often obtained illegally and abused, but that's no reason to prohibit the prescription use of painkillers. Marijuana should be no different.

Arguments based on fear

Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is not an automatic precursor to rampant drug activity. Arguments against medical marijuana seem based more on fear and exaggeration than the logic of reducing suffering. Marijuana isn't nearly as risky as the objections make it sound.

The marijuana issue came up last year in the legislature. A House subcommittee approved the bill, but the measure did not get out of a Senate committee. The issue should be brought back. Testimony in the recent legislative hearing suggested that marijuana is not as preferable as some synthetic drugs available. But it is always pertinent to ask about the cost of other drugs, and people respond in different ways to different treatments.

Opposition to medicinal marijuana is making the issue far more complicated than it should be. It is a substance that can be grown naturally and can bring some relief to people who desperately need it. It makes little sense for it to be illegal when used strictly for medical purposes.

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