A Medical 'Catch 22'

March 26, 2004

EDITORIAL, Las Vegas Sun

Does it make any sense to legalize the use and possession of marijuana for medical purposes, but offer no legal way for patients to acquire it? No, but this is what has been going on in Nevada since our constitutionally backed medical marijuana law became effective Oct. 1, 2001.

Under the law, patients must receive approval from their doctors to use marijuana. They must have their fingerprints checked, to ensure against prior drug convictions. They must apply to the state Department of Agriculture. Finally, they must get a card from the Department of Motor Vehicles. With this card, they may legally possess 1 ounce of marijuana and seven marijuana plants.

But where does the patient get that 1 ounce? Or the plants? Or the seeds to grow them?

That's the part the law does not address. So while it is legal for authorized patients to possess marijuana and use it to alleviate pain, it remains illegal for them to go out anywhere and acquire it. A month before the law went into effect, Jim Johnson, a member of the Nevada Board of Agriculture, said, 'We're going into uncharted territory with this. But let's get it going and see where the problems are.'

In our view, access is the only problem. While we oppose legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, we support medical marijuana. Prescription pain killers can cost $500 a month or more. In contrast, marijuana is inexpensive and numerous studies show that it can be medically effective.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws but they are all wrestling with access issues. The root of the problem is the federal government, which opposes medical marijuana. While last year the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a federal appeals court ruling that doctors cannot be disciplined for prescribing marijuana, states still remain afraid of federal drug enforcement agents. We believe Nevada should work with the other states where marijuana is legal, and the federal government, to find a way to make its law work.

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