Time to cut through the legal haze of marijuana

March 11, 2004

EDITORIAL, Times-Standard

There has been a lot of debate about medical marijuana laws -- most of it revolving around how much should be allowed for consumption, distribution and production for medical purposes.

The arguments range from the federal position of zero tolerance to liberal cries of make it all legal.

The questions are far more complex than how much or little or none at all. And it is encouraging to observe efforts being made to understand the ramifications of medical marijuana in schools and the workplace.

A panel hosted by the Humboldt County Workplace Investment Board recently addressed issues concerning marijuana in the workplace.

Jon Sapper, a WIB member and assistant superintendent of Humboldt County Schools, said, 'Quite a few questions were raised, especially in areas that will probably have to be decided in the courts because there's no clarity in the law to answer those questions.'

Clarity would indeed seem to be in short supply.

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There is the conflict between the feds and the states, counties and cities. A county may pass its regulations, but how does that affect federal employees working within the county? What effect does a drug-free school zone have on a student who has a 215 card for medical marijuana?

The Americans with Disabilities Act outlines the requirements about employing people with disabilities. How would that affect an employee who shows up high on medical marijuana? Can that employee be turned away or prevented from operating a forklift? It can also be argued that medical marijuana really is for those who are too critically ill to work.

What's the difference between an employee who takes a prescription pain killer that warns against operating certain equipment or driving while taking the medication and a person who takes medical marijuana?

All prescription drugs go through a rigorous screening at the Food and Drug Administration before they can be marketed. The analysis determines how the drug should be used, how it is retained in the body, how it reacts with other drugs, what effects it has on pregnant or nursing women. Since marijuana has not undergone this scrutiny, what is known about its effects?

The federal government does not recognize marijuana as a medicine, putting it, instead, into the Schedule I category with heroin and LSD, more restrictive than Schedule II, which includes morphine and cocaine.

The primary ingredient of marijuana, delta-9-tetrhydrocannabinol (THC), is available for prescription as Marinol, which has been approved by the FDA for AIDS patients and those undergoing cancer chemotherapy.

Humboldt State University Police Chief Robert Foster wrote recently in an editorial-page item in the Times-Standard: 'It's important to know that local ordinances and state medicinal marijuana laws do not apply on school property, including colleges and universities. On campus, you will be arrested for either possession or trafficking.'

Robert Bonner, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in a paper published in 1995: 'Those who insist that marijuana has medical uses would serve society better by promoting or sponsoring more legitimate research,' rather than promoting additional legislation.

We agree with this approach. It has been proven that marijuana has medicinal uses. The issue that is frequently missed is that there is no standardized source of marijuana for commercial medicinal purposes. More energy should be spent discovering just how much good can come from the plant and treat it the same as a prescription drug.

Continuing on the course of countervailing, superseding, overlapping and just plain confusing laws does more harm than good and impedes legitimate research on a drug that could have tremendous benefits for mankind.

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